FCC: Websites Can Ignore 'Do Not Track' Requests

John Lister's picture

The Federal Communications Commission (FTC) says it won't force web companies to take any heed of "Do Not Track" tools in web browsers. The move may fatally undermine the technology which is part of all modern browsers.

The idea of "Do Not Track" is to have a standardized way for users to indicate to website operators that they don't want their online activity tracked. It's designed particularly for situations in which a third-party advertising agency which has access to a website can put a tracking cookie on the computer of a visitor to the site. The next time the user sees an advertisement from that agency, the ad can be tailored based on the sites the user has visited since the cookie was put in place.

Do Not Track Used In All Major Browsers

The Do Not Track concept goes back to 2009 when it was proposed as a standard signal that could be issued by any web browser and recognized by any website or other web-based tool. Supporters of the idea hoped it would become widely accepted as a website equivalent of measures such as the Do Not Call registry for phones.

It hasn't yet become a formal standard. However, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera and Chrome all support Do Not Track, albeit usually as an optional setting rather than a default.

The problem is that there's no legal requirement for website operators or advertising companies to take any notice of the signal. Indeed, several major industry groups that deal with online businesses and advertising have explicitly said they won't force members to respect Do Not Track signals. That leaves users having to manually reject or delete cookies on every site to prevent tracking.

The Consumer Watchdog group has formally asked the FCC to make it mandatory for website firms to take notice of Do Not Track. It believes the FCC has had the power to make such a rule since June when it reclassified broadband Internet as an information service, allowing it to make rules to enforce the principle of net neutrality. (Source: zdnet.com)

FCC Says 'Do Not Track' Is Outside Its Remit

The FCC has rejected the Consumer Watchdog request saying that Do Not Track has nothing to do with net neutrality, which is the idea that all [lawful] Internet traffic should be treated equally. That's manifested in rules that stop Internet carriers from slowing down or blocking particular types of content.

According to the FCC, to force companies to comply with a Do Not Track signal would involve regulating how people use the Internet, something it has no desire to do. The ruling actually works out quite well for the FCC as it helps counter the arguments of critics who say the reclassification of broadband was an attempt to interfere with the freedom of the Internet. (Source: fcc.gov)

It's bad news for supporters of Do Not Track, however. Now its clear that the idea won't have any legal force, even more major online firms may choose to ignore the signals. That in turn may mean users don't bother to switch on the feature.

What's Your Opinion?

Should Do Not Track signals be legally enforceable? If so, should the FCC be the agency to enforce them, or does that go beyond its scope? Should major companies such as Google respect Do Not Track even if they aren't legally required to do so?

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Dennis Faas's picture

I have Do Not Track set in my browser as well as opting out of Google Cooking Tracking, yet I'm still tracked - evident from the ads I see in my browser. The fact is, tracking is big money for ad agencies and the technology is here to stay. If you don't want to be tracked then the best way to *help* ensure your anonymity is to use a VPN and disable cookies altogether, though the latter would make using the Internet not very user friendly.

caseymcpoet's picture

I have the Avira Free Safety Browser. It has a little green drop down box that tells you who is tracking you & lets you block any or all of them. For instance it says Google Analytics & Google Syndication tracks this site. I have them blocked. I don't know if it actually works, Dennis, but I use it. It remembers the settings the next time you go to the site. About 3-4 months ago a Firefox update blocked the Safety Browser, but that's been resolved. That's when I found out that the Do Not Track was just a request & not a real block. And the FCC block works for most of the telephone mouseketeers.

bcfl's picture

Remember a joke called Do Not Call - the FCC couldn't and doesn't enforce or assist with that, why would anyone think they could do anything with Do Not Track.
The only thing I seem to recall them doing was blocking Over the Air Television from being sent over the Internet... another loss for the consumer and victory for commercials.

David's picture

I block all 3rd-party cookies by default, and only make an exception when I absolutely have to.

ronbh's picture

I just started using Ghostery which shows how a web page is tracked and allows you to block tracking.
FYI on this page Google Adsense , Google analyitics , Gravatar and Zopin are used.
I mostly block everything but I do have this site white-listed.
I was surprised at the number and variety of tracking going on.

Syscob Support's picture

Add the http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/ sites to your HOSTS file—it includes virtually all of the advert generating sites. Then all you see is “Object not found” in place of the crap ads.

Don Cook's picture

Do not track means "Do Not Track" full stop. Or we will not use your facility. Customers down the drain for NOT doing as you are told.

patrick.worboys_5756's picture

If you use do not track it actually cause issues with telemetry of what browser and version, what country they are visiting from. U don't care if I'm tracked I prefer to be track to get ads based on my interests then having unless ads that don't relate to me. Also if you do use do not track it can have a negative impact on small blogs and impact there income. But the best thing to do is at least sign up Google's Contribute that will help some sites that are using it by giving funds to the sites that you visit that are taking advantage of Google contribute.