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Advertisers and Publishers Adopt and Implement Do Not Track

March 31st, 2011

Mozilla’s Do Not Track privacy feature in Firefox provides users more control over online behavioral tracking. Two developments bring it closer to being respected by industry.

Mozilla is a nonprofit organization committed to making the Web better and putting users in control of their Web experience. As part of this mission, we’re developing and implementing technologies that give people easy and effective privacy controls.

Mozilla introduced the Do Not Track (DNT) HTTP header approach in January and launched the feature in Firefox 4. We’ve worked closely with more than fifty leading companies and trade groups to help devise ways to implement DNT and offer users more control over how their browsing behavior is tracked and used online. Mozilla is working with the W3C and IETF organizations to standardize the DNT header, and we were pleased to see Microsoft subsequently include the mechanism in Internet Explorer 9.

To provide users more choice and control over online behavioral tracking, it’s essential that publishers and advertisers adopt and implement Web technologies that respect consumers’ wishes to not be tracked across their Web properties and services.

Today there are two significant developments on this front:

  • The AP News Registry service, run by the Associated Press, implemented the DNT header across 800 news sites servicing 175 million unique visitors each month.
  • The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which includes the five major media and advertising agencies, is initiating a process to explore incorporating the DNT header, as proposed by Mozilla, into its Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA). The DAA represents more than 5,000 leading media and technology companies that span the entire marketing-media ecosystem.

The Associated Press (AP) is the first company to deploy DNT on a large scale, and it only took a few hours for one engineer to implement. The AP News Registry tracks 1 billion impressions of news content, with 175 million unique visitors per month, and has membership with more than 800 sites. When consumers send a DNT preference via the browser while viewing a story at one of its publisher’s sites, the AP News Registry no longer sets any cookies. The previous solution was for users to opt-out via a link to a central opt-out page referenced in each participating news site’s privacy policy. They still count the total number of impressions for each news story, but aggregate consumer data for those with DNT in a non-identifiable way.

Since Mozilla issued the DNT proposal in late January, we have been engaged in productive and fruitful discussions on DNT with stakeholders across the industry, including the major trade groups and publishers. The turning point in the discussion came a few weeks ago, following a presentation from the FTC and ensuing industry call to discuss melding browser-based DNT implementations with self-regulation. Just last week, the leaders of the five groups that make up the DAA approved moving forward with determining how to include the header into its existing program. As a result, Mozilla is beginning an effort to collaborate with the DAA and other stakeholders to explore both business and technical requirements to further support broad implementation of the DNT header.

About Do Not Track and Firefox

With the integration of the DNT into Firefox, users can now check a “Do Not Track” box in the “Advanced” screen of Firefox “Options” (PC) or “Preferences” (Mac). When DNT is enabled, a signal sent via an HTTP header tells websites and third parties that the user wishes to opt-out of online behavioral tracking.

We’ll continue working with our users, online advertisers, publishers, developers, consumer groups and policy makers to flesh out DNT implementations and ensure DNT evolves into a meaningful tool for enhancing consumer privacy online. We believe the HTTP header is a constructive approach and one of the many areas we’re exploring to put users in control of their Web experience.

Alex Fowler