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Early! Do! Not! Track! Adopter! Yahoo! Says! It's! Rubbish, Bins! It!

Claims lack of 'single standard' makes DNT a lost cause

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Yahoo! has done an about-face on its stance toward the controversial Do Not Track browser privacy standard, announcing that it will no longer recognize users' DNT settings across any of its online properties.

"As the first major tech company to implement Do Not Track, we’ve been at the heart of conversations surrounding how to develop the most user-friendly standard," the Yahoo! Privacy Team wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. "However, we have yet to see a single standard emerge that is effective, easy to use and has been adopted by the broader tech industry."

The Purple Palace first began implementing DNT in 2012, adding support to its Right Media and Genome (née Interclick) advertising services as well as its own-branded sites, ahead of other online giants, including Google.

But the effort was not without its dissenters. Notably, former Yahoo! privacy guru Anne Toth objected to the system, having told Time magazine, "Right now, when a consumer puts Do Not Track in the header, we don't know what they mean. Privacy is not a one size fits all thing."

It wasn't until Toth left Yahoo! to take a job at Google+ that the company actually pushed forward with its DNT plans, suggesting that top brass at the Purple Palace had been divided on the issue.

Brower makers have been more bullish. Mozilla was the first to implement DNT in Firefox 5 in 2011, and Google followed suit for Chrome a few months later. But when Microsoft decided to turn on DNT by default in Internet Explorer 10, even those who otherwise supported the scheme balked.

Just as it had been one of the first to implement DNT, Yahoo! was also the first major website to announce that it would ignore IE10's DNT signal, not long after the Apache Foundation announced that its eponymous open source web server would do the same.

And therein lies the problem with DNT. Not only is it intended as an opt-in feature for browser users (IE's behavior notwithstanding), but it's also opt-in for online services. If neither side can agree on how the signal should be handled – if at all – then the system is effectively useless.

Yahoo! concluded its announcement on Wednesday by saying it would continue to offer tools for managing users' privacy – just not ones having anything to do with DNT.

"We encourage our users to tailor their online experience through the variety of privacy tools we offer within our own platform, accessible via our Yahoo Privacy Center," the blog post explains. "The privacy of our users is and will continue to be a top priority for us." ®

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