Ad industry blasts Microsoft over Do Not Track defaults in IE 10

Ad industry blasts Microsoft over Do Not Track defaults in IE 10

Summary: In an open letter, an influential U.S.-based lobbying group for the advertising industry has sharply criticized Microsoft's decision to enable Do Not Track as the default setting in Internet Explorer 10.

TOPICS: Privacy, Microsoft

A U.S.-based organization representing the advertising industry has sharply criticized Microsoft for its decision to enable the Do Not Track feature in a standard installation of Internet Explorer 10, the default browser in Windows 8.

In an open letter to Microsoft published on its website, the Board of Directors of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) called Microsoft’s decision “shocking” and argued that “Microsoft’s announcement has been uniformly met with outrage, opposition, and declarations that Microsoft’s action is wrong.”

The letter is signed by representatives of a Who’s Who of multinational corporations, including General Motors Corporation, GE, IBM, and Coca-Cola. It’s filled with enough industry jargon to be an instant winner in any game of buzzword bingo, and despite the sharp rhetoric it’s notably short on data and filled with inconsistencies, misleading arguments, and a few statements that can be characterized as outright falsehoods.

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The dust-up stems from Microsoft’s decision to enable the Do Not Track header for IE 10 in an express installation of Windows 8. If a user sets up Windows 8 and accepts the default settings, the browser will send the DNT:1 signal to any website that user subsequently visits. In theory, the DNT:1 signal means the user has expressed the intent for his or her online behavior to not be tracked.

The ANA argues that this “opt in” decision is unacceptable:

Default policy choices should be set by looking to what is best for society as a whole, while giving individuals who have strong preferences the ability to make a different choice. By making this selection for consumers and presenting it in the terms that Microsoft has used, you are presenting the wrong choice to consumers and making a choice for them in a way that is fundamentally bad for consumer interests and the Internet services that they cherish, and even worse concealing this trade-off from them.

So what’s wrong with the ANA’s argument?

First, the group argues that opposition to Microsoft’s action is virtually unanimous, and it quotes “The Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission” in support of the argument that “the right standard is a default of ‘off’ for ‘do-not-track,’ recognizing the harm to consumers that Microsoft’s decision could create.”

But that statement is well off the mark. For starters, the letter in question (PDF) is from FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch, not FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. Rosch’s letter goes on to say, “To be sure, Microsoft’s proposed default setting solves the ‘accessibility’ issue that has long confronted consumers who wish to implement a DNT browser setting.” And Commissioner Rosch also notes the issue that the ANA tries to sweep under the rug, which is that the proposed DNT standard is completely toothless:

[Microsoft’s default setting] does not solve at all the fact that the recipient of the signal must still choose to honor the signal and refrain from tracking consumers and/or collecting data about them.

Second, by arguing that “the entire media ecosystem has condemned this action,” the advertising lobbying group ignores the wishes of the public, who have consistently expressed concerns about the amount of data that is being collected without their permission. An article that the ANA letter references approvingly includes this statement from Mozilla’s chief privacy officer, Alex Fowler:

The public is increasingly uneasy about the extent to which their online lives are invisibly profiled, analyzed, packaged, sold and reused to personalize advertising, content and services.

Third, the group deliberately muddies the issues by arguing that blocking the collection of data will somehow stop advertising:

Microsoft appears determined to stop the collection of web viewing data. That is unacceptable. The result of such a large percentage of data collection being blocked seriously undermines consumers’ interests by potentially diminishing the robust content and services available over the Internet.

A simple example of advertising in the television medium makes this point clear. If consumers were presented a choice of whether they want advertisements on network television to be broadcast, consumers would likely choose “no advertising.” But if 43 percent of American households were removed from the television advertising audience, consumers collectively would suffer because network television as we know it would no longer be a viable business model. The choice would not be one of advertising or no advertising; the choice would be one of advertising or no network television shows. Similarly, the choice that consumers actually face is between continuing to allow advertising to subsidize Internet offerings, or paying more for offerings that they currently enjoy for free or at a low cost.

That argument is ludicrous. Enabling Do Not Track will not stop advertising. In fact, the comparison to television advertising undermines the ANA’s position completely. Ad-supported television networks are able to survive without having any form of data collection to target ads to individual sets. Why is Internet advertising different?

Finally, the ad industry argues that the default for all web browsing should be set to allow them to collect data with no limitations:

[I]t is clear that a default “off” setting for consumers to control online data collection strikes the right balance for society as a whole. If consumers were presented with the right choice of responsible collection and use of this data in exchange for today’s vast advantages of the Internet, there is no question what the right choice is.

In fact, the statement from Chairman Leibowitz to Ad Age appears to indirectly support Microsoft’s intent while disagreeing with the details of its implementation: “My position is clear: I support an easy, persistent opt out on third-party tracking that limits collection with a few exceptions, such as security.” That “easy” ability to say no to tracking is what the advertising and data collection industries are trying to prevent.

It’s clear that Microsoft is attempting to use privacy as a way to differentiate its browser. The ferocity of the opposition from the advertising industry suggests they’ve hit a nerve.

Topics: Privacy, Microsoft

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  • Kudos MS...

    If you compare the online tracking behaviour to it's equivalent in offline life, we'd have a commerce spy following us around and recording our shopping/viewing habits and slamming ads in our faces every now and then. This type of privacy invasion is not acceptable in real life, why would they think that it is acceptable in the online world? Just stick to serving specific types of ads on specific types of websites... like they do on TV. Photography ads on a photorgraphy website, that sort of thing, and quit following everyone around.
    • @Kstap

      Amen to that brother! The only people shocked and upset are those that have been illegally stealing information from end users.
      • Agree 100% - Efff the ANA

        All those advertisers can rot in he11... Having do not track on by default is friggin awesome and the way it should be... Every once in a while, Microsoft does something right and this is so very right...

        Microsoft better be careful or people will start to like them again...
    • well said and agreed, thank you

      The sad part is, all of this can be made very legal if the right lobbyists get involved. Who said this country works for the people, unless said people have more money? Oh, wait, that's a corporatist plutocracy and not a democratic republic... my bad!
      • Think about it: corporations offer a much better form of democracy, than

        any form of government.

        With corporations, big or small, rich or poor, you have choices, and you don't have to use or purchase their products. With government, you're stuck with whatever services they provide, while forcing you to pay for them, like it or not.
        • WoW

          Not only do you have no idea what democarcy is, but you seem to have no idea of the power and influence of major corporations.

          Believe it or not, outside fortress USA, goivernment is actually considered a good thing.
          • Define 'good.'

            Such a good thing that the majority of the world's governments were overthrown, many of them multiple times, in the last century.

            Government is but a tool. In the wrong hands it can be used to create great harm. Unfortunately the wrong hands are also the most eager to get a grip on the tool.
          • There has not existed...

            ...a single society in hystory without government, anarchy has never been succsesful and a govrnment has been detrowned by another government. With small lapsus witout control (Government). When someone tells you: small goverment, it means big mob (or bussines like arms, drugs, med labs, oil (big money) control(government))
          • Really

            a wise man said: control the money control the country, control the food control the people. Thats democracy for you.

            For years businesses have tracked what we do. example store cards, but when we take on the cards we are agreeing to that. When you visit a web site, you dont want them to just help themselves, which is what they are doing now.

            Cookies have come along way from what they started life as.

            Unfortunately, goverments are elected on so called 'promises' which then change to 'how can i make myself richer and get the voters to pay for it'. That is politics, recent history has shown this to be true. Finances govern our world, and if a corporation can gain .01% of the internet by shoving dating adverts in front of your face with a picture of someone from timbucktoo who claims to be your neighbour that is sporting just a pair of nickers they WILL fight tooth and nail to do it.

            Dont get me wrong, there is nothing like statistics for a web site, but all you need is how many hits.. Or even a track number for referal purposes.

            I hope that the other browser developers follow suit, or even add the option for a plugin/add-on.

            Keep up the good work MR Microsoft
          • Wow! Use your head, and read for comprehension, instead of trying to change

            the subject and contents of my statements.

            Fact is that, even in "fortress" USA, there are many who consider big government to be a good thing, but, the facts on the ground point to the contrary, where the U.S. has been getting turned into another country which is following in the footsteps of the failing European type governments, where their economies are failing badly, and to many, all hope is lost.

            Corporations are not governments, like those for countries. There is, however, a freedom that people have when choosing their products and services, and you don't have that when government takes over a service or a set of goods. With government, you either take it or nothing at all, which is not really a choice.

            See the difference, Mr Big Government Lover?

            Government is not the enemy, as long as the people remain free, and can make their own choices.

            Where government does become the enemy, is when it becomes so large that, you don't have choices and you lose your freedoms. Big government can NEVER work without total control of the economy and people's lives.

            So, in fact, it is YOU that has no idea about what democracy means.

            However, I can't fault you for not understanding what I'm talking about, or for your lack of understanding what "real democracy" is about, because, in many countries around the world, real democracy has never even existed. What you've never had or understood, you won't miss.
          • Failing European Governments -- a longer than expected rebuttal

            Regarding the "failing" European governments with economies supposedly failing with hope lost to many: As a whole, the Eurozone runs a small trade surplus and average debt as a percentage of GDP is below that USA (which year on year continues to borrow massive sums of money to finance a massive trade deficit). The problems in Europe are a consequence of the southern European eurozone states not being able to compete with the north and running up massive debts. This divide exists because the politicians introduced the Euro - which was good, practical for the average European citizen - but did not have all the fiscal and monetary policies and cooperation required (which now everyone is scrambling to fix).

            I think the point of difference in opinion us that you think the US should become less like Europe - smaller governments and presumably more capitalist, because you see a bad economy and debt (and think European type government = massive debt and cause of your problems). On the other hand, I see America as way, way off on the capitalist side running into massive debts, and point that Europe, which is more socialist, isn't in as big a hole of debt and the economy is alright.

            Regarding the freedom -- governments in Europe I think are not there to limit human freedoms, e.g. They open up borders with other European countries and let people freely travel. They also exist to ensure that the products and services you buy are safe to use/eat, are reasonably built (e.g. Mandatory warranties of 2 years on certain products), and society runs more sustainably (Emissions trading, limits on hazardous substances, promotion of smaller, more efficient vehicles). You may call it taking away freedoms of polluting the environment, selling throw-away appliances etc, but these help to ensure the safety, quality and sustainability of goods and services. In general, European governments do not seek to be the providers of goods/services other than perhaps, Healthcare. Instead, they seek to bolster competitiveness and consumer choice (though I'm not sure you were accusing Europe of not having a democracy... If so, I would point out that to an outsider, it appears the American democracy and government is run to serve corporate interests, not those of the citizen).
          • I wish

            I could have written that.

            If you are an American touche.

            Makes me want to move to Milan.
            Brian Bath
    • Blinder alert

      @kstap, do you think that doesn't happen already in the real world? Do you use a credit card? A "saver card" at a local grocery store? Send in rebates? There are hundreds of ways your habits can be tracked by. Don't be so naive.
    • Kudos Indeed!!!!

      The audacity of these lobbyist (aka lawyers) is incredible. Their sense of entitlement is mind blowing to say the least!

      Microsoft should be applauded, and to show how much I appreciate what they are doing I am dropping Chrome for IE 10!

      Great job Microsoft
  • To Hell with them.

    I should not be tracked by default. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts.

    I get it, you want to make money, but there's a line, and the past few years the advertising industry has past it. Just because we have social networks, mobile devices, and high speed Internet doesn't mean I need to be treated like a pawn. To "opt out" is ludicrous. At no point is there any clear indication where I can go to do so. If they *really* want "opt out", then there should be clear indications that I am being tracked, what is being tracked, and an absolute on/off button.

    The Internet is a shady place, we deserve the ability to protect ourselves. In the meantime, I'll stick with using AdBlock, and my new favorite Chrome addon: Disconnect.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Thanks

      Thanks for the heads up on the Addon. Very nice!
    • Also...

      I would look into Ghostery which works for Firefox and Chrome. It blocks cookies and tracking servers and not by DNT=1. It also allows you to select which individual servers you would like to block or white-list. This add-on also tells you which tracking servers are detected on the pages you visit. You'd be amazed to see some pages going in upwards of 15+ tracking servers. I find it absurd!
    • I don't care that I am tracked

      The problem is that so many people are tracking me and NONE of the tracking is randomized with no personal information.
      Yes, no personal information. I'm not asking for a lot there, just use a randomized number that you assign to me (User 788979797969797 or something like that) and go from there.
      • Never hurt me to be tracked...

        In fact one day they just might put an ad that attracts me :-)

        The place online where I shop the most is Amazon and they do not need that tracking system, because I login to their site and they know what I bought and their suggestions are amazingly on the spot for what I like (in fact 90% of their recommendations are things I bought in brick and mortar stores or planning to buy, so they know me).
  • The stalkers are upset? Tough!

    So the internet stalkers are upset that the vast majority of the internet's population doesn't want them snooping around in our lives? Wow, big surprise there kids.

    In other news : crime syndicates strongly oppose the actions of police detectives.

    Thank you Microsoft for choosing your actual customer's interests over those of the criminals.