The emerging Do Not Track standard should give web surfers privacy by default, Microsoft has insisted after the idea was turned down by the standard's working group.
The working group at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) represents a wide spectrum of players including advertising and analytics companies, social networks, browser-makers and others. Last week it came up with a "compromise" proposal that says web users would have to give "explicit consent for enabling Do Not Track", a feature in browsers that lets users avoid being tracked by cookies.
Do Not Track (DNT) is available in many browsers, but applied in different ways — hence the development of a standard.
Microsoft, which had said it would turn DNT on by default in the Windows 8 version of Internet Explorer 10, said on Friday that requiring explicit consent would effectively favour the tracking of web users.
"We agree with those who say this is all about user choice," Microsoft chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch said in a blog post. "However, we respectfully disagree with those who argue that the default setting for DNT should favour tracking as opposed to privacy."
Lynch cited Pew Internet research from March, in which 68 percent of people surveyed said they were "not okay with targeted advertising because [they] don't like having [their] online behaviour tracked and analysed.
"This sentiment, coupled with our commitment to privacy by design, led us to think deeply about how users can exercise their DNT choice in IE10. Providing a choice regarding DNT means having a setting users can control," Lynch wrote. "We ultimately concluded that the appropriate privacy-friendly default for DNT in IE10 is 'on'."
We ultimately concluded that the appropriate privacy-friendly default for DNT in IE10 is 'on'.– Brendon Lynch, Microsoft
Pointing out that the DNT standard is still a work in progress, Lynch said Microsoft "remains firmly committed to defining bona fide technical specifications and policies to govern DNT".
"Indeed, we will be hosting the next meeting of the W3C working group later this month," he added.
Although the discussions within the W3C working group are confidential, emails following last Wednesday's compromise proposal made clear that it was the "privacy-leaning stakeholders" who lost out. These would most likely include participants such as Microsoft and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Some have suggested that Microsoft's stance on the matter is partly a tactic to undermine its arch-rival, Google. Google's business is mostly funded by ads that rely on 'behavioural advertising' cookies to track users and make it easier for the company to target them with relevant promotions.