Twitter’s decision to honour “Do Not Track” settings in web surfers’ browsers when it launches its ad exchange will doubtless be greeted with bunting and champagne at the headquarters of Microsoft.
That company has fought a long, lonely — and until now fruitless — war to get advertisers to respect the Do Not Track setting it uses by default in its Internet Explorer browser.
By contrast, folks at Google probably hate Twitter right now for joining the anti-tracking forces.
And advertisers won’t like the way Twitter has made them look bad for not following its lead.
Until Twitter’s move this week, no major advertising organisations — “no” meaning zero, nada — had agreed to respect Microsoft’s Do Not Track setting. Rather, the entire ad business had officially announced that because Microsoft was making the Do Not Track decision on behalf of its users — they would have to affirmatively opt in favour of being tracked — that they would ignore it.
The Do Not Track setting is a signal, not an actual blocker of tracking by advertisers. Advertisers track users with “cookies,” little bits of software that anonymously tell advertisers which web sites users have been to so they can be targeted with relevant advertising. Advertisers, knowing they can ignore the signal, continue to track users in Internet Explorer despite the Do Not Track setting.
The fact that Twitter — which maybe has $1 billion in ad sales — has vowed to follow Microsoft’s signal is a massive vote of confidence for the anti-advertising, Do Not Track lobby.
Until recently, it looked as if Microsoft was losing the Do Not Track wars. Advertisers had vowed to ignore it. And because Safari, Firefox and Chrome come with tracking blocked or an option for blocking it, Internet Explorer was set to be the only browser where all users would be tracked despite Do Not Track.
But this summer, workers at Firefox basically told the ad biz to go jump in a lake. New versions of Firefox will probably come in a default “tracking-off” position — further reducing the number of cookies available for users to target.
Apple’s Safari comes with cookies off by default.
That leaves only Google’s Chrome as a browser where cookies are on by default.
Twitter’s announcement was greeted with joy by the pro-privacy Electronic Frontier Foundation. It will now be used to bash Google over the head for subjecting its users to targeting that they may not want or understand. In order to stop tracking, you actually have to know what it is and then how to change the preferences on your browser to get rid of them — a task that is beyond many casual web surfers.
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