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FTC Commissioner Blasts Microsoft Do Not Track Browser

Says default setting does not give consumers choice
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A Federal Trade Commissioner Thursday criticized Microsoft's default Do Not Track setting on its new browser, lending his support to the the Internet ad community's assertion that the feature departs from industry consensus and limits consumer choice.

Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch expressed his opposition to Microsoft's move in a letter to the World Wide Web Consortium Tracking Protection Working Group, which is meeting this week in Seattle, Wash. to try to hammer out a definition of what Do Not Track should mean.

The Internet ad community has agreed to honor a universal Do Not Track browser setting by the end of the year, a commitment that was praised by the FTC when it released its final privacy report earlier this year. Microsoft threw a monkey wrench into that commitment when it announced its alternative default browser, which was set to automatically opt consumers out of tracking.

The default setting does not give consumers choice, Rosch argued in his letter. "To the contrary, Microsoft's default DNT setting means that Microsoft, not consumers, will be exercising choice as to what signal the browser will send," he wrote.

Rosch's letter also took issue with a letter sent to the World Wide Web Consortium from Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), co-chairs of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, who embraced the default approach as the suggested standard for the industry. The duo, who were copied on Rosch's letter, advocate that DNT should mean both do not collect and target.

Because Microsoft's default DNT browser departs from the Internet ad industry's consensus, the community is likely not to honor the signal that Microsoft's browser would send.

"It does not solve at all the fact that the recipients of the signal must still choose to honor the signal and refrain from tracking consumers and/or collecting data about them," Rosch wrote. "Only this standard-setting organization's efforts to clarify the expectations of consumers who choose to not be tracked and the obligations of those who are asked to refrain from tracking will result in a workable solution."

Though there were high hopes that the consortium's days-long meeting would solve the DNT debate, this one seems far from over.