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All of the big modern browsers offer a Do Not Track feature — you tick a box in the settings, and your browser lets every website you visit know that you don’t want to be tracked across the Internet What's A Cookie & What Does It Have To Do With My Privacy? [MakeUseOf Explains] What's A Cookie & What Does It Have To Do With My Privacy? [MakeUseOf Explains] Most people know that there are cookies scattered all over the Internet, ready and willing to be eaten up by whoever can find them first. Wait, what? That can’t be right. Yes, there are cookies... Read More . It seems like a great idea, but does it really protect your privacy? Do websites respect your wishes? Or does it simply provide a false sense of security that might have some people not protecting themselves adequately?

Let’s take a look at the evidence.

What Is “Do Not Track”?

First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to what we’re talking about. According to DoNotTrack.us,

Do Not Track is a technology and policy proposal that enables users to opt out of tracking by websites they do not visit, including analytics services, advertising networks, and social platforms.

When you tick the Do Not Track box in your browser’s settings, your browser adds an HTTP header to all of your web traffic letting websites know that you don’t want to be tracked; you don’t want tracking cookies from analytics or advertising networks, you don’t want information about your browsing to be transmitted to social networks, and so on.

do-not-track

Ideally, this means you wouldn’t receive browser cookies that enable ad retargeting or the mass collection of data about your browsing habits.

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Does It Work?

In a perfect world, any website receiving web traffic with a Do Not Track header would do just that: not track the user. It would be federally mandated that companies respect the wishes of the user, under the threat of facing penalties if they ignored the Do Not Track request. This has been proposed to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) a number of times. But instead of taking control of this privacy issue, the FTC delegated it to powerful corporate interests.

Deciding not to get officially involved in the privacy of users, the FTC instead tasked the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to work out the details of the Do Not Track technology. Who controls the W3C? Adobe, Facebok, Google, eBay, Netflix, PayPal, Kaiser Permanente, Twitter, Yahoo!, and a couple hundred other organizations, many of which are interested in collecting your data.

Does this seem like a good idea?

w3c

When you understand that these are the companies in charge of implementing the Do Not Track standard, it becomes obvious why it doesn’t do anything. DoNotTrack.us does have a list of companies that respect the wishes of users who have enabled Do Not Track, but it’s less than impressive.

Here’s an illustrative example. When Internet Explorer 10 Internet Explorer 10 Tips and Tricks: It Can Do More Than You Think Internet Explorer 10 Tips and Tricks: It Can Do More Than You Think When Microsoft unveiled Windows 8, one of the most interesting things about it was the new iteration of Internet Explorer. If viewed via the Start screen, the slimmed-down browser offers maximum space for viewing web... Read More was released, Microsoft enabled Do Not Track in the browser by default, stating that users should make a conscious decision to share information with advertisers, and not the other way around. The Digital Advertising Alliance made a fuss. And to make a long story short, Microsoft capitulated. As of Windows 10 Everything You Need to Know About Windows 10's Privacy Issues Everything You Need to Know About Windows 10's Privacy Issues While Windows 10 has some issues that users need to be aware of, many claims have been blown out of proportion. Here's our guide to everything you need to know about Windows 10's privacy issues. Read More , users now have to turn on the feature themselves.

At first glance, it looks like Microsoft took a stand for user privacy, even though they ended up backing down in the end. But does Microsoft itself honor Do Not Track requests? Here’s what their privacy statement says:

Because there is not yet a common understanding of how to interpret the [Do Not Track] signal, Microsoft services do not currently respond to browser [Do Not Track] signals.

Not very reassuring.

Although some companies — including, Twitter, Medium, Reddit, and Pinterest — have committed to respecting users’ Do Not Track requests, most advertisers simply ignore it, citing a lack of an implemented standard that they’ve contributed to (Hulu recently announced they would no longer be respecting users’ wishes in this matter). Again, not reassuring.

In short, Do Not Track doesn’t do much at all.

It’s not like these companies can’t limit the tracking they do; many of them allow users to opt out of tracking and ad re-targeting if they log into a specific page and log a request. But that takes more effort, which means fewer people will do it.

What Can You Do?

While Do Not Track is a great idea, the FTC’s delegation of its implementation to the W3C, as well as the widespread industry decision to simply ignore it because they can, effectively killed it. But there are other options you can use to protect your privacy. Here are a few things you can do:

Take Privacy Into Your Own Hands

Do Not Track is a great idea, but when it comes down it, the technology really has no bite. Companies can — and usually do — choose to ignore it and face no consequences for doing so. It’s a good idea (and you should enable the setting anyway) but if you really want to keep organizations from tracking you across the Internet, you’ll need to do more than just send a polite request. You’ll need to take your privacy into your own hands with more direct measures.

Did you know that companies could just ignore Do Not Track? Do you use other anti-tracking features to ensure your privacy? Or have you just accepted that you’re being tracked everywhere? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

  1. Gavin Phillips
    August 15, 2016 at 8:31 am

    Great article, Dann, really good read.

    • Dann Albright
      August 16, 2016 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks! I learned a lot writing this one, which is always nice. Those tend to be my best articles, actually. Fantastic coincidence. :-)

  2. Chad Edwards
    July 28, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    I always ensure that Do Not Track is on all my browsers, and then if the browser accepts extensions I always install Ghostery to automatically block these trackers, on top of that Adblocker never hurts, and an occasional reset of my google advertising id.

    • Dann Albright
      August 11, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      Yeah, having multiple systems to protect your privacy never hurts . . . well, it hurts your system resources, but that's a pretty worthwhile sacrifice. :-)

  3. Colin
    July 28, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Firefox has the Do Not Track button, but they also have anti-tracking(like disconnect) built into the browser. You might have to enable it by going into about:config page. Think it is turned on by default for private windows, but if you enable it, it will work for regular windows also. You also can disable it for sites you want whitelisted. Do not know if other browsers have this, Opera has an ad blocker built in.

    • Dann Albright
      August 11, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      I'm not sure how many browsers have anti-tracking built in, but I think Firefox has the most robust system (though I could be wrong). Either way, having more things between you and trackers is a good thing!

  4. tony
    July 28, 2016 at 11:04 am

    DNT owned by abine.com now called BLUR blocks all advertising that is good enough for me .No one can stop Google from snooping at anyone ..Only bad thing about BLUR/DNT is they want to remember your password ,don't click yes it locks your password and you can'r change it also can't click a SIGN IN button so end up taking a long time to figure out how to bypass their lock the owners are no help but can be done i done it after about 3 weeks trying ...
    I have it on all my computers and i don't see those annoying adds except for on internet explorer ,for some reason it keeps deleting DNT but who wants to use internet explorer any way not me...............

    • Dann Albright
      August 11, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      I'm a bit confused by your comment here . . . Blur looks like an app or an extension, whereas DNT is a signal sent in the HTTP header of traffic. So they're not the same thing.

  5. Read and Share
    July 27, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    DNT's are just 'polite requests' -- nothing more. To me, it's the equivalent of shooting a standard-worded email back to your spammers politely asking them not to spam you again. If anything, doing so just marks you as a real-live user worthy of more spamming/tracking!

    When DNT's first came about, many tech sites referred to them as web-tracking "blockers" (which they most certainly weren't). Editorial ignorance just confused the public even more.

    • Dann Albright
      August 11, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      "Polite request" is a good way to think about it. Unfortunately, politeness doesn't get you real far in the advertising world.

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