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Top admen beg Microsoft to switch off 'Do Not Track' in IE 10

Browser 'blocks our adverts choice and competition'

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Microsoft is in hot water with big-brand advertisers over its implementation of Do-Not-Track by default in the latest iteration of its Internet Explorer browser. The ad-slingers say Internet Explorer 10’s Do-Not-Track feature will hurt advertisers, consumers and competition.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has published an open letter to Microsoft’s chief executive Steve Ballmer, senior vice president and general counsel Brad Smith and chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie opposing the fact DNT will be turned on by default in Windows 8’s browser.

The letter comes less than a month before Windows 8 is due to be released to the public on new PCs and tablets.

The ANA, of which Microsoft is a member, reckoned DNT-by-default offers the “wrong” choice for consumers by requiring them to "opt in" should they wish data relating to their web surfing habits to be tracked.

For advertisers, IE10 will potentially block their ability to collect data on 43 per cent of netizens in the US using Microsoft’s browser – that statistic is IE’s current market share in the US according to StatCounter.

That data, the ad body argues, fuels economic growth on the internet and supports online services that "define the consumer online experience".

Thirty-nine ANA members have put their names to the letter, including AT&T, Dell, Ford Motor Company, IBM, Intel, Kellogg, Nestle, McDonalds and Wal-Mart.

The ANA has opposed on-by-default DNT since Microsoft announced the feature in May this year – a point the ANA points out to Ballmer, Smith and Mundie in its letter, published on 1 October. The ANA letter says:

If Microsoft moves forward with this default setting, it 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.

Advertisers, it says, are “very upset” DNT will be turned on out-of-the-factory as it will “reduce the vast array of free content and services” available to consumers.

The group buys into the belief that people would willingly or unconsciously stick with the DNT default setting when they set first set their machine up. It opposed DNT-by-default from the start, a point the ANA points out to Ballmer, Smith and Mundie in its letter.

Microsoft appears determined to stop the collection of web viewing data. That is unacceptable. The result of such a large percentage of data collection being blocked seriously undermines consumers’ interests by potentially diminishing the robust content and services available over the Internet.

The letter is the latest challenge to DNT in the Windows 8 browser. Last month it emerged Apache HTTP daddy Roy Fielding had quietly updated the code in Apache servers so that websites running the open-source stack would not work with IE10’s DNT feature. Fielding argued the default setting was a false privacy setting because websites would only recognise DNT if it had been turned on manually.

Mozilla, who led the way on DNT with Firefox, has also opposed Microsoft’s implementation, saying the decision to go DNT must be the user’s choice.

Microsoft has said its decision to make DNT a default setting in IE 10 is part of the company's "commitment to privacy by design and putting people first".

Mozilla originally challenged Microsoft, and Google with Chrome, to implement DNT in their browsers. It was a provocative move given their browsers are used by advertisers to reach consumers online, and considering that both firms' vast online businesses are largely underwritten by people building, selling and placing ads. ®

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