Microsoft has thrown a spanner in the works with its controversial default 'do not track' signal on its new Internet Explorer browser to be released with Windows 8 on Friday.
A powerful group of advertisers says if consumers choose to stay with the Do Not Track option, they could prevent companies from collecting data on up to 43 percent of browsers used by Americans.
Yahoo has said it will not recognise Microsoft's decision because it undercut an industry pledge to come up with an "opt-in" DNT feature by the end of the year.
Yahoo accuses Microsoft of "unilaterally deciding " to turn on DNT in Internet Explorer 10 by default, rather than at users’ direction.
"In our view, this degrades the experience for the majority of users ," says Yahoo in a blog post. " It basically means that the DNT signal from IE10 doesn’t express user intent," the company said .
Yahoo has powerful support. The chief marketing officers of Procter & Gamble, Walmart, Ford, Verizon, Coca Cola, Unilever, General Electric, American Express, Kraft, and 30 other companies have signed a letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, complaining .
The new Internet Explorer will prevent consumers from being targeted by advertisers, who spend $2.8 billion a year via Microsoft.
The open letter from the board of the Association of National Advertisers to Steve Ballmer said that Microsoft’s move will “undercut the effectiveness of our members’ advertising and, as a result, drastically damage the online experience by reducing the Internet content and offerings that such advertising supports.
"This result will harm consumers, hurt competition, and undermine American innovation and leadership in the Internet economy.”
In case Ballmer didn't get the message, the letter added, “Microsoft’s action is wrong. The entire media ecosystem has condemned this action. In the face of this opposition and the reality of the harm that your actions could create, it is time to realign with the broader business community by providing choice through a default of ‘off’ on your browser’s ‘Do Not Track’ setting.”
Business Week said it was rare for advertisers to publicly criticise the media sellers they deal with and for them to band together — even with competitors — and sign a statement against a marketing partner that takes billions of their dollars.
An ad lobby group has confirmed that the Microsoft plan will likely be ignored by the advertisers it is designed to curtail.
The Digital Advertising Alliance, which represents 5,000 major advertisers, said in a terse statement that "The DAA does not require companies to honor DNT signals fixed by the browser manufacturers…Machine-driven Do Not Track does not represent user choice."
The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, is trying to work out global standards for the don’t-track-me features.
So far, Microsoft is ignoring advertisers’ complaints. Brendon Lynch, Microsoft’s chief privacy officer, said a company study of computer users in the United States and Europe showed 75 percent wanted Microsoft to turn on the Do Not Track mechanism.
“Consumers want and expect strong privacy protection to be built into Microsoft products and services,” Lynch wrote.
What is really at stake here is the future of "the surveillance economy," said the New York Times .
Do Not Track threatens the barter system in which consumers allow sites and third-party ad networks to collect information about their online activities in exchange for open access to maps, e-mail, games, music, social networks and so on, said the paper.
Marketers say collecting consumer data enables effective advertising tailored to a user’s tastes. Those tailored ads enable smaller sites to thrive and provide rich content.
“If we do away with this relevant advertising, we are going to make the Internet less diverse, less economically successful, and frankly, less interesting,” says Mike Zaneis, for the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
The W3C met recently in Amsterdam to hammer out Do Not Track standards.
But Rachel Thomas, vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, said, “There is a strong concern that the W3C is not the right forum to be making this decision.The attempt to set public policy is entirely outside their area of expertise.”
Earlier this year at a White House event, the Digital Advertising Alliance pledged to honour don’t-track-me signals - so long as the systems required consumers to make an affirmative choice.
But now , the consortium says it views Microsoft’s latest browser setting as an automatic, machine-driven choice preselected by a company — not a choice actively made by an individual consumer.
MIcrosoft says the consumer can always turn DNT off and adds, "There needs to be an easy and effective way for responsible advertisers and ad networks to inform consumers and obtain persistent consent for their services even if the DNT signal is turned on."