Promises You Can’t Keep: The Saga of DNT and IE10

October 1, 2012

When responsible data use practices are implemented on the internet, a lot of groundwork must happen so that self-regulation mechanisms can afford adequate consumer privacy protection.  There are no silver bullets, shiny objects or checked boxes that “make” consumer privacy real online.  Instead, picks and shovels are put to work, and the work is a continuous effort – and much of it is behind the scenes -- to make it easier for the consumer, yet translatable to the way the internet works.  Let me explain.

First, there must be real, impartial, accountability.  Are you certain there is a designated authority that can ensure that privacy promises made to the consumer can be enforced?

Second, the ecosystem of the internet – the publishers, the content providers, the advertisers, the ad networks, the standard bearers, the users and the policymakers – must be in your corner. Have you engendered buy-in from all parties so everyone acts in concert to honor consumer privacy choices?

Third, your approach to consumer privacy must be consistent and in a way that educates as it empowers consumer choice. Are you creating an informed marketplace?

Fourth, a comprehensive privacy program requires that consumer information be secured. Likewise, you have to have some controls about sensitive data.  Are personal finance, health and children’s data protected? Are there principles and practices in place that elevate use of such personal data to a higher threshold of consumer permission?

Microsoft -- as it plans to turn on by default, a Do-Not-Track or DNT key in its Internet Explorer Version 10 (IE10) -- can’t answer “yes” to these questions.  It doesn’t have majority support of publishers, users, advertisers, or policymakers. It has no power to enforce impartially, or accountability to have a respected third party handle and resolve complaints. It makes no distinction between classifications of information. In short, are its IE10 plans really in the name of “privacy” or just a marketing angle that conveys a worrisome, false privacy claim?

The ground work for responsibly managing data use is something that takes time and serious investment from many actors in the ecosystem. We are all tempted by “silver bullet” tech solutions to complex problems, but that doesn’t mean all of the challenges are amenable to those fixes.

I’d submit that the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) and its recognized YourAdChoices.com program is the real way to ensure both fair information practices and adequate privacy protections, while delivering an open, expansive, diversified, and paid-for internet.  Transparency, notice, choice, accountability, enforcement, security, sensitivity – it’s all there now, in place now, with full support now from the internet community and policymakers and more than 11 million users to date.  It’s dynamic, too – keeping pace with browser updates, the mobile internet, going global and whatever future internet enhancements come along.

Don’t make promises you can’t deliver on, Microsoft.

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