Sunday, October 07, 2012
A Blessing or a Curse: Microsoft’s New Default “Do Not Track” System
Edited on: Sunday, October 07, 2012 5:30 PM
Categories: Business, Computers, Entertainment, Event, Internet, Legislation
Microsoft’s newest operating software, Windows 8, is scheduled for release to consumers in October. But this time around, Microsoft has changes in place that will affect more than just PC consumers. Internet Explorer Version 10, which will premiere with Windows 8, has the attention of major companies, including Google and Facebook, advertisers, and the average Internet user.
Internet Explorer 10, just as other Internet browsers like Firefox and Safari, will have a “do not track” option for users. This option allows users to choose whether or not they want their online activities to be tracked, documented, and studied by companies that will use the data to tailor advertisements to the user based on their interests, habits, and projected needs. But it is the way Microsoft plans on implementing the “do not track” option that has caused such an upset: in IE 10, the option will be automatically enabled, and the user will have to customize the settings to turn this preference “off” if they wish to allow companies to track their online behavior.
Online advertising has become a $300 billion dollar industry, thanks to its effective ability to target consumers with ads that are relevant to the consumer’s desires. Because of the high-level of tailoring available in online advertising, it has become one of the most popular choices for companies both large and small, as it is cost-efficient. This is all made practical by data exchanges, which target users with cookies. Companies that compile this data and sell it to potential advertisers depend on users not opting out of the tracking system; the less data there is to track and analyze, the less effective their advertising becomes. Most users do not go to the trouble of “activating” the “do not track” option on their browser (figure estimated at 11%), and companies take advantage of this. Companies fear that with a default “do not track” option automatically enabled, even fewer users will go to the trouble of “de-activating” the “do not track” option, and the companies and online advertising will fall apart.
Microsoft is only one piece of the “do not track” puzzle. However, their choice to implement the automatic “do not track” option may begin a sort of domino effect. The FTC has already recommended that all browsers give consumers the “do not track” option; this has caused Google Chrome to just recently add the feature. But with Microsoft’s move, the FTC might see the “do not track” option as not going far enough to protect consumers, and require all browsers to make “do not track” the default setting. Other browsers may simply follow suit in order to retain customers, if consumers are attracted to Microsoft’s “pro-privacy” stand and other browsers need to maintain a competitive edge.
Some enraged data tracking companies are threatening to not honor default “do not track” preferences. The industry is self-regulated, and a user selecting “do not track” only alerts the data companies that the consumer does not wish their activities to be tracked, allowing the companies to decide how to respond. This could lead to lawsuits over what “do not track” actually means, and how these companies can be regulated to properly satisfy consumers who wish to “not be tracked” by default.
If “do not track” becomes the standard default due to competitive forces or mandated by legislation, the effects for the Internet as we know it could be devastating. The bottom would fall out of online advertising, and online companies that make their money solely from advertising could crumble. Websites might then be forced to charge users for access, depriving many of the free services that are currently available, because they have no revenue from advertising. Every site may only allow access after each user has specifically agreed to “opt in” to tracking, causing a slew of complications for users that desire easy-access and legal issues for the site itself.
Or perhaps, consumers will simply take the time to set their preferences to “tracking on,” realizing the benefits that tailored online advertising provides them as well as advertising companies. But it seems unlikely that the average Internet user, influenced by the hype surrounding “pro-privacy,” would go out of his or her way to opt-in to tracking, with slogans of “Big Brother” filling the minds of the masses. “Do not track” legislation, predictably on its way, could prove devastating to the Internet as it works today.
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