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Yahoo to ignore Microsoft's 'Do Not Track' signal from IE10

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 30, 2012
Yahoo will ignore "Do Not Track" privacy requests sent by Microsoft's Internet Explorer 10 browser, calling its ally's unilateral decision "signal abuse" and pointing to a possible rift between the search partners.

A group composed of advertisers, browser makers, privacy advocates and others have not finalized a DNT standard, even after months of intensive work. The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) standards-setting group has, however, preliminarily ruled that browser makers cannot set the DNT signal for users, essentially letting each website decide whether it will acknowledge or ignore IE10's.

Advertisers recently turned up the rhetoric about DNT. Earlier this month, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), an industry lobbying group, said Microsoft's decision would "harm consumers, hurt competition, and undermine American innovation," and called the on-by-default setting "unacceptable."

Privacy advocates countered, saying that the ANA's demands were "bizarre."

Yahoo's decision to ignore IE10's DNT signal is notable because the California company is allied with Microsoft in search. In 2010, the two firms signed a 10-year agreement whereby Yahoo's search results are fueled by Microsoft's Bing search engine.

One privacy advocate tied Yahoo's announcement to the Friday launch of Windows 8. "Hunch: Yahoo walked back its Do Not Track commitment today because of the Win8/IE10 launch," said Jonathan Mayer on Twitter.

Mayer is a graduate student in computer science and law at Stanford University, and one of two researchers at the school who created the HTTP header implementation that signals a user's DNT preference.

Microsoft debuted IE10 on Oct. 26 as part of Windows 8. A version of the browser for the much more popular Windows 7 will reach beta -- Microsoft calls that a "preview" -- in mid-November. IE10 on Windows 7 will also have the DNT option enabled by default.

"At least Yahoo is honest about why it's ignoring IE10 Do Not Track," noted Mayer, also on Twitter, as he quoted the company's claim that the privacy feature, if turned on, "makes it hard to deliver on our value proposition."

Also on Friday, Microsoft's head counsel, Brad Smith, blogged about DNT. Because his comments were based on an Oct. 23 keynote speech at an international conference of data protection and privacy officials, he did not address Yahoo's move.

In the blog post, Smith defended Microsoft's decision on IE10 and DNT, citing a survey the company commissioned that said 75% percent of U.S. and European consumers wanted DNT switched on by default.

(Smith's Oct. 23 keynote presentation can be found on the Microsoft website ( download PDF).

Smith also urged all browser makers to "clearly communicate to consumers whether the DNT signal is turned on or off, and make it easy for them to change the setting," a reference to Windows 8's notice during setup.

Olds saw Yahoo's statement as giving it an out, noting that the explicit reason it gave was due to the lack of a clear and comprehensive standard, and that the company used the phrase "at this time" in its statement.

 

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