Advertisers fume after Microsoft makes 'Do Not Track' the default in Internet Explorer

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Brendon Lynch, Microsoft's chief privacy officer, explained in a blog post that the company believes "consumers should have more control over how information about their online behavior is tracked, shared and used."

He acknowledged that online advertising supports many Internet services and said consumers can benefit from tailored advertising, saying Microsoft hopes "that many consumers will see this value and make a conscious choice to share information in order to receive more personalized ad content."

But Lynch said Microsoft decided to make Do Not Track the default because "consumers should be empowered to make an informed choice."

Online privacy is a top priority for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under Chairman Jon Leibowitz; the agency first proposed a Do Not Track button in 2010. Leibowitz urged Web companies to voluntarily set up a system for users to opt out of online tracking, and warned that legislation could be necessary if they failed to act.

Advertisers, under pressure from the FTC, agreed earlier this year to stop tracking the browsing activity of users who had the Do Not Track feature in their browser turned on. But at the time, no browser offered Do Not Track as the default.

Stu Ingis, counsel of the Digital Advertising Alliance, slammed Microsoft's announcement, saying it will sap the advertising revenue that funds many free Internet services.

"The DAA is very concerned that this unilateral decision by one browser maker — made without consultation within the self-regulatory process — may ultimately narrow the scope of consumer choices, undercut thriving business models, and reduce the availability and diversity of the Internet products and services that millions of American consumers currently enjoy at no charge," he said in a statement. "The resulting marketplace confusion will not benefit consumers, and will profoundly impact the broad array of advertising-supported services they currently enjoy."

He argued that Microsoft's action is "inconsistent with the consensus achieved" in negotiations to set up the Do Not Track system.

Randall Rothenberg, president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said the move is a "step backwards in consumer choice."

"A default setting that automatically blocks content violates the consumer’s right to choose," he said.

But the FTC chairman applauded the decision, and urged Web companies to adopt even tougher privacy protections.

“Microsoft’s Do Not Track option in its upcoming version of Internet Explorer is yet another step forward in giving consumers choice about their browsing data,” Leibowitz said. “Despite this positive development, industry should honor consumer choice not just for receiving targeted ads, but for all tracking other than for expected purposes like security. I remain hopeful that industry will provide an effective Do Not Track solution by the end of the year.”

The feature will be turned on in the upcoming Internet Explorer 10, which will be included as part of Windows 8. Explorer has historically been the most popular browser, but it is now tied with Google's Chrome, with the browsers controlling about a third of the marketplace each.