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12 June 2012, 12:31

Do Not Track should not be enabled by default says W3C proposal

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W3C logo The latest draft proposal from the W3C working group developing the Do Not Track (DNT) privacy setting says that setting the Do Not Track signal on, or off, by default will not be allowed in compliant clients. The latest draft is the result of the creation of a "compromise proposal" for the various interested parties by Peter Eckersley of the EFF, Tom Lowenthal of Mozilla, and Jonathan Mayer of Stanford University.

The change in the draft was partly triggered when Microsoft said it had turned Do Not Track on by default in Internet Explorer 10. This announcement triggered debate within the standards group as it works with publishers, social networks, advertisers and browser makers to try and establish the Do Not Track standard. Mozilla was concerned that a browser maker, by setting DNT on by default, would be removing the option for the user to make a choice.

The proposal adds a line – "An ordinary user agent must not send a Tracking Preference signal without a user's explicit consent" – to the start of the User Agents section of the DNT proposal, though it is currently preceded by a disclaimer that it has not "been extensively discussed with stakeholders". It also notes that it should be considered a preliminary position on the issue. The requirement for explicit consent does allow for users to be prompted on first run of an application and asked if they want to enable Do Not Track. The proposal change potentially places Internet Explorer 10 in the position of, if unchanged, being non-compliant with the final specification.

Whether the proposal will survive the W3C is open to discussion. As noted by Mayer when he introduced it, the compromise proposal also includes a number of major concessions from the privacy-leaning stakeholders "including complete concessions on two of the three central issues". For example, the proposal allows corporate affiliates to share information even when DNT is enabled. Mayer notes that some participants are already indicating that the concessions go too far and will not support the proposal. Mayer adds that "when everyone in the center of the group is just a bit unhappy, I think we've found our consensus".


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