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Microsoft does an about face on Do Not Track browser setting

On one of the quietest news days so far this year, Microsoft is reversing course on how it implements its controversial Do Not Track setting for its Internet Explorer browser.  It will no long be activated as a default setting. Going forward, Do Not Track will have to be turned on by the user, just as it is in Chrome and Firefox.

Brendon Lynch, Microsoft’s chief privacy officer said the company decided to make the change to bring its browser in line with industry standards.

“We are updating our approach to DNT to eliminate any misunderstanding about whether our chosen implementation will comply with the W3C standard,” wrote Lynch in a blog post Friday.

Loved by privacy groups, Microsoft’s default DNT browser was introduced with Windows 8 two years ago.  It was an instant non-starter with the interactive ad community. Arguing that a default DNT setting does not represent user choice, the interactive ad community refused to honor it.

“It represents browser-manufacturer choice,” the Digital Advertising Alliance said in October 2012.

Now the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) tracking protection working group seems to be agreeing with the advertising community.  It adopted draft positioning on March 24 – that the do not track signal “MUST reflect the user’s preference.”

“The basic principle is that a tracking preference expression is only transmitted when it reflects a deliberate choice by the user. In the absence of user choice, there is no tracking preference expressed,” the W3C’s latest draft reads.

Established three years ago, the W3C has struggled to come up with a voluntary Do Not Track standard that all the stakeholders, from privacy hawks to the ad industry, could buy into.

Microsoft’s Lynch said the company will provide clear information to consumers about how to turn on the feature if they want to and only apply when customers set up a new PC for the first time or upgrade to a newer version of Windows or Internet explorer.