NEW YORK – Microsoft and Google are locked in a competition where many have related to the controversial practice of advertisers to record every step made by Internet users. Both companies fight over how to implement the “Do Not Track” (No Trace), a button on the browser you will soon see on various browser settings and allow users to preclude or disable the collection of data on the websites of all participating ad networks.
After years of skirmishes and engagements, the Do Not Track system brought together two competing wills. Currently, the proposal is supported by major browser vendors by the Obama administration and 90% of ad networks and publishers in the country including Google, Yahoo, and AOL.
But here is where the issue is complicated: Microsoft announced last week that will become the first browser maker to activate Do Not Track as the default setting in the next version of Internet Explorer, called IE10.
This decision breaks and openly contravenes the fragile compromise carefully constructed between privacy advocates and online advertising networks.
Although privacy advocates believe it would be better for users, that option is not activated automatically. Advertisers have said they would only accept the tool if the default is “off.” That is, disabled by default so that the user manually activates it if he or she does not want to be tracked.
On Wednesday, a working group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organization that sets Internet standards, ratified the agreement reached earlier about the Do Not Track button. The statement mentioned that the button should only be activated if a user chooses to do so deliberately.
In other words, the W3C is supporting the exact opposite of what Microsoft has planned for the browser IE10. This disagreement places ad networks in a bind. If IE10 Microsoft launches your browser with the option Do Not Track on by default, the browser would breach the agreement. Do we still need ad networks to respect the request of users of IE not being tracked?
No agreement could be reached on this subject, says Jonathan Mayer, a researcher at Stanford privacy and technology developer who was present at the meeting held on Wednesday between the main participants of the initiative.
Google, Yahoo, and many other advertisers and publishers objected that the ad networks should respect the request not to bring Do Not Track to IE by default, said Mayer. His position is that a default configuration does not represent the user’s choice.
“It is not clear to what degree will an agreement be on this issue,” said Mayer to CNNMoney. “One of the Google representatives said in the meeting that the company can do whatever it wants anyway. I’m surprised by the transparent attitude of some of these companies – they simply want to minimize the number of users who choose the Do Not Track policy” .
A Google spokesman declined to comment on this article, but did not deny the statement made by Mayer about Google and many other advertisers wanting to ignore requests for Do Not Track requests in the browser IE10.
That would be bold and risky.
Participation in the Do Not Track program is voluntary, but once the company subscribes to it (like Google has done) compliance is monitored and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Google could fall into a regulatory hell if the agency determines that ignore requests for No Trace IE10 browser is misleading.
Microsoft, meanwhile, said no final decision has been taken by the W3C working group, and said he will continue working with the organization on the subject. “While we respect the perspective of the W3C, we believe that a standard should support a ‘default privacy’ option for consumers,” said Brendon Lynch said in a statement, chief executive of Microsoft privacy.
A Microsoft spokesman declined to speculate on whether Microsoft would maintain Do Not Track browser IE10 as standard configuration even if that position violates the official specification of the agreement.
The irony is that Google and Microsoft play on both sides of this debate. The two companies have made great popular browsers and Internet advertising networks. So everyone has to decide: What matters more?
At this point, Microsoft seems to be looking after consumers, but also has a history of using privacy as a differentiator to try to prevent the deteriorating market share of their browser to sink faster.
Meanwhile, Google – the company’s famous slogan ‘do not be evil “- has had recent clashes with Apple and Microsoft on their furtive efforts at tracing users. Who will get away with it?