The Do Not Track (DNT) header is the proposed HTTP header field
DNT that requests that a web application disable either its tracking or cross-site user tracking (the ambiguity remains unresolved) of an individual user. The Do Not Track header was originally proposed in 2009 by researchers Christopher Soghoian, Sid Stamm, and Dan Kaminsky. Efforts to standardize Do Not Track by the W3C in the Tracking Preference Expression (DNT) Working Group are currently advanced at Candidate Recommendation status (as of 20 August 2015).
In December 2010, Microsoft announced support for the DNT mechanism in its Internet Explorer 9 web browser. Mozilla's Firefox became the first browser to implement the feature, while Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari,Opera and Google Chrome all later added support.
The header field name is
DNT and it currently accepts three values:
1 in case the user does not want to be tracked (opt out),
0 in case the user consents to being tracked (opt in), or null (no header sent) if the user has not expressed a preference. The default behavior required by the standard is not to send the header unless the user enables the setting via their browser or their choice is implied by use of that specific browser.
In 2007, several consumer advocacy groups asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to create a Do Not Track list for online advertising. The proposal would have required that online advertisers submit their information to the FTC, which would compile a machine-readable list of the domain names used by those companies to place cookies or otherwise track consumers.
In July 2009, researchers Christopher Soghoian and Sid Stamm created a prototype add-on for the Firefox web browser, implementing support for the Do Not Track header. Stamm was, at the time, a privacy engineer at Mozilla, while Soghoian soon afterward started working at the FTC. One year later, during a U.S. Senate privacy hearing, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told the Senate Commerce Committee that the commission was exploring the idea of proposing a "do-not-track" list.
One week later, Microsoft announced that its next browser would include support for Tracking Protection Lists, that block tracking of consumers using blacklists supplied by third parties. In January 2011, Mozilla announced that its Firefox browser would soon provide a Do Not Track solution, via a browser header. Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari, Opera and Google Chrome all later added support for the header approach.
In August 2015 a coalition of privacy groups led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation using W3C's Tracking Preference Expression (DNT) standard proposed that "Do not track" be the goal for advocates to demand of businesses.
When using the "Express" settings upon installation, a Do Not Track option is enabled by default for Internet Explorer 10 and Windows 8. Microsoft faced criticism for its decision to enable Do Not Track by default from advertising companies, who say that use of the Do Not Track header should be a choice made by the user and must not be automatically enabled. The companies also said that this decision would violate the Digital Advertising Alliance's agreement with the U.S. government to honor a Do Not Track system, because the coalition said it would only honor such a system if it were not enabled by default by web browsers. A Microsoft spokesperson defended its decision however, stating that users would prefer a web browser that automatically respected their privacy.
On September 7, 2012, Roy Fielding, an author of the Do Not Track standard, submitted a change to the source code of the Apache HTTP Server, which would make the server explicitly ignore any use of the Do Not Track header by users of Internet Explorer 10. Fielding asserted that Microsoft's decision "deliberately violates" the Do Not Track specification because it "does not protect anyone's privacy unless the recipients believe it was set by a real human being, with a real preference for privacy over personalization." The Do Not Track specification did not explicitly mandate that the use of Do Not Track actually be a choice until after the feature was implemented in Internet Explorer 10. Fielding pointed out that Microsoft knew its false signals claiming that users had chosen Do Not Track would be ignored, and that its goal was to effectively give an illusion of privacy while still catering to their own interests. On October 9, 2012, Fielding's patch was commented out, restoring the previous behavior.
On April 3, 2015, Microsoft announced that as of Windows 10, it would comply with the specification and no longer enable Do Not Track as part of the operating system's "Express" default settings, but that the company will "provide customers with clear information on how to turn this feature on in the browser settings should they wish to do so".
When a web browser requests content or sends data using HTTP, it can include extra information optionally in one or more items called "headers". Do not track adds a header (DNT: 1), indicating that the user does not want to be tracked. The browser user has no control over whether the request is honoured or not.
There are no legal or technological requirements for the use of DNT. Websites and advertisers may either honor or ignore DNT requests. The Digital Advertising Alliance, Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Direct Marketing Association does not require its members to honor DNT signals. There are organizations such as DataNeutrality that are involved in setting DNT guidelines for private companies involved in data collection.
Microsoft itself does not obey the DNT header, stating "Because there is not yet a common understanding of how to interpret the DNT signal, Microsoft services do not currently respond to browser DNT signals."
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