The “Do Not Track” (DNT) privacy standard has made a little more progress. Google, still reeling from this summer’s US$ 22.5 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission stemming from their mishandling privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser, included support for DNT in the latest developer release of its Chrome browser.
Google Getting in Touch with Privacy
Discussions about providing web users a way to opt out of having their web behavior monitored began over five years ago and eventually spawned a flurry of government activity. The very real (and scary) prospect of having individuals who only a few years before described the Internet as “like a series of tubes,” pass wide sweeping privacy was ample encouragement for the tech sector to begin self-regulation efforts. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released its first draft of a DNT standard in November 2011, and the latest version was published earlier this year in March.
However, measure of any technology standard is its level of adoption, and given that guideline, DNT is currently earning a solid C-. The problem is not the browser makers. In February, Google promised support for the standard by the end of the year, and seems to be making progress on its vow. The latest developer build of Chrome includes support for the flag. The new flag is tucked away under advanced section of Chrome’s browser settings.
The feature will go through Google’s normal development and release process, and should be available by the end of the year in the production/general access version of Chrome.
Google, which has created more than its share of privacy related headlines lately, is the laggard when it comes to the standard. Mozilla’s Firefox gained support for DNT in 2011. Opera added the feature in July with Opera 12. Apple’s added DNT capabilities to Safari 5.1. Microsoft caused a controversy (of course) with its decision to enable DNT by default in the express install settings of Windows 8, which prompted Apache to declare it was ignoring DNT requests from IE 10. Given the high adoption rates in the browser market, why is the DNT standard not yet considered a success?
The Problem with Do Not Track
Browser adoption is only one half what’s necessary for DNT to function. The other half of the equation requires web sites and web advertisers to respect the flag, and many do not do DNT. The flag is completely voluntary. (Although, Google’s decision not to support is what put the company in the FTC’s sights.) The fact DNT is two-step process is something most casual web users may not know, which could create a false sense of security.