Industry Adoption of DNT Underway

Alex Fowler

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Mozilla’s Do Not Track privacy feature in Firefox provides users more control over online behavioral tracking. Two developments bring it closer to being respected by industry.

Mozilla is a nonprofit organization committed to making the Web better and putting users in control of their Web experience. As part of this mission, we’re developing and implementing technologies that give people easy and effective privacy controls.

Mozilla introduced the Do Not Track (DNT) HTTP header approach in January and launched the feature in Firefox 4. We’ve worked closely with more than fifty leading companies and trade groups to help devise ways to implement DNT and offer users more control over how their browsing behavior is tracked and used online. Mozilla is working with the W3C and IETF organizations to standardize the DNT header, and we were pleased to see Microsoft subsequently include the mechanism in Internet Explorer 9.

To provide users more choice and control over online behavioral tracking, it’s essential that publishers and advertisers adopt and implement Web technologies that respect consumers’ wishes to not be tracked across their Web properties and services.

Today there are two significant developments on this front:

  • The AP News Registry service, run by the Associated Press, implemented the DNT header across 800 news sites servicing 175 million unique visitors each month.
  • The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which includes the five major media and advertising agencies, is initiating a process to explore incorporating the DNT header, as proposed by Mozilla, into its Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA). The DAA represents more than 5,000 leading media and technology companies that span the entire marketing-media ecosystem.

The Associated Press (AP) is the first company to deploy DNT on a large scale, and it only took a few hours for one engineer to implement. The AP News Registry tracks 1 billion impressions of news content, with 175 million unique visitors per month, and has membership with more than 800 sites. When consumers send a DNT preference via the browser while viewing a story at one of its publisher’s sites, the AP News Registry no longer sets any cookies. The previous solution was for users to opt-out via a link to a central opt-out page referenced in each participating news site’s privacy policy. They still count the total number of impressions for each news story, but aggregate consumer data for those with DNT in a non-identifiable way.

Since Mozilla issued the DNT proposal in late January, we have been engaged in productive and fruitful discussions on DNT with stakeholders across the industry, including the major ad groups and publishers. The turning point in the discussion came a few weeks ago, following a presentation from the FTC and ensuing industry call to discuss melding browser-based DNT implementations with self-regulation. Just last week, the leaders of the five groups that make up the DAA approved moving forward with determining how to include the header into its existing program. As a result, Mozilla will collaborate with the DAA and other stakeholders to explore both business and technical requirements to further support broad implementation of the DNT header.

Over the last eight weeks we’ve heard that the DNT header wasn’t technically feasible, that it would break the web, and that no one would sign up to respect the header. It’s too early to claim victory, as there are many challenges and details yet to be to addressed, but the current momentum and support for DNT, including real-world implementations like the AP’s, certainly suggest that these criticisms may have been too hasty.

We’ll continue working with our users, online advertisers, publishers, developers, consumer groups and policy makers to flesh out DNT implementations and ensure DNT evolves into a meaningful tool for enhancing consumer privacy online. We believe the HTTP header is a constructive approach and one of the many areas we’re exploring to put users in control of their Web experience.

Alex Fowler
[Reposted]

Note: This post is modified from the original one published on the Mozilla blog.
Photo Credit: OlliL

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