Microsoft Sets Do Not Track as Default in Internet Explorer 10

Company executives say they are erring on the side of privacy, but the decision draws the ire of advertisers.

Microsoft, as it has done with the current version of its Internet Explorer Web browser, is enabling support of the Do Not Track effort with its next-generation IE 10.

However, unlike what Microsoft did with IE 9 and other browser vendors have done, Microsoft is making the Do Not Track capability the default setting, generating praise from some consumer privacy advocates but drawing the ire of advertisers.

Do Not Track is one of several initiatives under way to protect the privacy of online users, who are increasingly wary of the amount of personal data that is being collected by the likes of Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple and what those companies are doing with the information. With Do Not Track, users can essentially decide against being tracked by third-party advertisers who hope to use the information gleaned from users€™ online habits for more targeted advertising.

Advertiser compliance with the Do Not Track is voluntary.

Most browsers, including IE 9, offer Do Not Track capabilities, though users must turn on the feature. That falls in line with what Google did with Chrome, Mozilla did with Firefox and Apple with Safari. However, Microsoft officials decided that with IE 10, that capability would be the default setting, with users needing to opt out of it if they wanted to.

€œThis decision reflects our commitment to providing Windows customers an experience that is €˜private by default€™ in an era when so much user data is collected online,€ Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Internet Explorer at Microsoft, wrote in a May 31 blog post. €œWhile some people will say that this change is too much and others that it is not enough, we think it is progress and that consumers will favor products designed with their privacy in mind over products that are designed primarily to gather their data.€

Officials at the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA)€”which counts Microsoft as among its members€”said they were troubled by Microsoft€™s decision. The group argued that the decision could undermine the work that the DAA, federal agencies and other browser makers have done to strike a balance between the privacy demand of users and the needs of advertisers. DAA officials said that during an event at the White House in February, it was agreed that the alliance members would honor Do Not Track as long as it was not used as the default setting.

In a statement released May 31, Stu Ingis, general counsel of the DAA, said in a statement that Microsoft€™s decision threatens the product availability and services that Internet users now are offered, harming online commerce and stifling innovation.

€œThe DAA is very concerned that this unilateral decision by one browser maker€”made without consultation within the self-regulatory process€”may ultimately narrow the scope of consumer choices, undercut thriving business models and reduce the availability and diversity of the Internet products and services that millions of American consumers currently enjoy at no charge,€ Ingis said.

However, others applauded Microsoft€™s move with IE 10, with some saying Do Not Track doesn€™t go far enough in protecting user privacy. While it will keep most advertisers from sending unwanted ads, it doesn€™t stop them or Web businesses from collecting information from online users.

"Microsoft is taking an important first step towards greater privacy protections for consumers by making Do Not Track the default for its new browser,€ Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), co-chairman of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, said in a statement. €œIt is my hope that Microsoft and other companies will go further in the future, so that Do Not Track also means Do Not Collect, giving consumers the ability to say no to both targeted advertising and collection of their personal data."

Microsoft executives said they are erring on the side of the consumer rather than the advertisers.

€œWe believe that consumers should have more control over how information about their online behavior is tracked, shared and used,€ Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer Brenan Lynch said in a blog post May 31. €œOnline advertising is an important part of the economy supporting publishers and content owners and helping businesses of all shapes and sizes to go to market. There is also value for consumers in personalized experiences and receiving advertising that is relevant to them.€

Lynch said the hope is that more consumers will see the value in getting targeted advertising sent to them, and will offer to share personal information to make that happen.

€œFor us, that is the key distinction,€ he wrote. €œConsumers should be empowered to make an informed choice and, for these reasons, we believe that for IE10 in Windows 8, a privacy-by-default state for online behavioral advertising is the right approach.€