image-pinterestdonottrack-2013.jpgFans of online pinning service Pinterest are about to get an extra dose of personalized recommendations, the company announced, and that means Web tracking. The feature can be turned off, however, and Pinterest will respect the Do Not Track protocol going forward.

Don't Track Me Bro

One of the most common ways for websites to track visitors is by embedding tiny bits of code on a website called cookies. Browsers can then remember that cookie for future visits, and the website can see whenever a particular person is on the website. As this practice has gotten ever more popular, privacy advocates have been demanding a way to turn these tracking cookies off.

Pinterest has announced it will begin using cookies to help offer visitors more precise recommendations on things they might be interested in. Specifically, any webpage visited that has a Pin It button, or any other Pinterest widget, will attach a cookie to browsers that Pinterest will recognize.

Once Pinterest pins or boards are visited, any of those websites that had previously been viewed could be taken into consideration for recommendations, the company said in a recent blog post. Pinterest will hold onto any browsing data for about 30 days, the time it says is about as long as that information is valuable.

Personalized Experiences or Invasion of Privacy

As an increasing number of websites turn to personalization engines of some kind, the balance of eliminating irrelevant recommendations with that of user privacy will only become more critical. Many people online prefer to have targeted ads or recommendations over just spammy content, but offering Do Not Track may inhibit the abilities of those efforts.

Right now, it's a fight between advertisers and marketers on one side, and privacy advocates on the other. Do Not Track as a standard is only opt in at this point, so there's been little done to stop websites from tracking a wide swath of their visitors. A few websites do offer a way for visitors to make use of Do Not Track, but advocates have been pushing for browser manufacturers to implement it at a higher level. 

At the browser level, people would only have to turn on Do Not Track once, and any website they visit could be made to quite using those kinds of cookies. The problem with that is there is a Do Not Track feature installed on leading browsers, but websites are under no obligation at all to comply with it.

Pinterest now joins a small group of websites who do respect DNT, and customers can go to their account settings and turn off Personalization if they choose. Recommended items will be found in the Follow Boards section, and Pinterest customers can go to Unfollow Boards to stop seeing things that aren't a good fit. Customers can use the new Edit Home Feed (pictured above) to adjust feeds just how people like them, and part of that includes the recommendations

This is a small step overall in the debate over personalization versus privacy, but it does come down on the side of privacy. Perhaps even other social media sites will feel empowered to move forward on this front, whatever side of the debate they come down on.