Remember in 2003, when the CAN SPAM Act was signed into law, how spam just stopped overnight? Yeah, me neither. Just as CAN SPAM did little to curb spam, having Google and Microsoft sign on to Do Not Track (DNT) still leaves a lot to be desired.
Google and others signing up for DNT support aren’t even promising not to track users, they’re just agreeing “not to use data from consumers who don’t want to be tracked to customize ads or to use the data for certain purposes such as employment, health care or insurance.”
To give Mozilla their due, this is a decent win for DNT. Google seemed very unlikely to embrace DNT with Chrome, and without Chrome in the mix you’ve got a big hole in browser support for the standard. Google getting caught (literally) with its hand in the cookie jar has had some benefits.
Likewise, having “big advertisers” sign on to DNT means that when users hit the DNT button in Firefox or (eventually) Chrome, they’ll get “untargeted” ads. At least, if they’re visiting a site where ads are powered by one of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) members or another ad network that respects DNT.
Ads and tracking are much like spam, though. Even if you have 100% compliance from companies like Google or Jumptap, there’s a lot more tracking out there. When CAN-SPAM was enacted, it had an impact on bulk mail from companies – though not as much as one might have hoped – but when I peek into my spam folder I see more than 2,800 pieces of spam.
Technology, Not Policy
What’s proved to be effective against spam is not legislation or companies agreeing to adhere to some policy like DNT, it’s technology. The same is true for thwarting unwanted attempts at third-party tracking.
I’m much more interested in technological measures that will give me direct control over third-party tracking. While Mozilla is pushing hard on DNT, they’re also looking at a couple of privacy features that would give users much more insight and control over tracking and cookie management.
Do Not Track has gotten a bit of a boost, but it would be a shame if users took today’s news to mean that unwanted third-party tracking is a solved problem. If you want real privacy protection, it’s going to have to come in the form of adopting features that block tracking attempts altogether.