Do Not Track Gets Support From Twitter

FTC tech head discusses tracking and privacy

Twitter has come out in support of Do Not Track, the privacy featured adopted by Web browsers such as Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer that lets users opt out of having their browsing behavior tracked.

The Federal Trade Commission’s chief technology officer Ed Felten dropped the news this morning during Mozilla’s “Opting in to Do Not Track” event in New York. Shortly after Felten’s mention, Twitter confirmed its support in, what else, a tweet.

“The Federal Trade Commission's CTO, Ed Felten, just mentioned Twitter now supports Do Not Track. We applaud the FTC's leadership on DNT,” the company wrote. Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner confirmed the news in an emailed statement to Adweek.

Penner issued the same statement to The New York Times earlier on Thursday after Felten broke the news.

During the Mozilla event, Felten—who made clear he was not speaking as a representative for the FTC—focused on the role of third parties in online tracking. Do Not Track is a “consumer-choice mechanism” to be used to create a “dialogue” between users and online services about the value each entity derives from tracking, he said, “but when you have a service such as a third party, which is perhaps even invisible to the user, then it’s more difficult for that conversation to happen.”

Felten talked hypothetically about a world with an effective Do Not Track mechanism. In that world consumers could decide what companies are able to track them and the companies would be able to determine how to respond if a consumer doesn’t want to be tracked, such as not letting the consumer use a service unless he or she opts in to be tracked.

“In the best case third-party trackers will step up and offer users a choice. They’ll explain their practices; many of them will say, ‘We think you ought to allow us to track you because we think you’ll like our practices and here’s the value you get on the other side of the equation,’” Felten said. Third parties would also be pressured by first-party publishers to comply with consumers’ choices to not be tracked, he said, but additionally they would risk the ire of government enforcement agencies.

“In a world with effective Do Not Track, companies that promise to comply, if they choose voluntarily to make that promise, that promise would be legally enforceable,” he said, adding that breaking that privacy promise is “likely a violation of the FTC Act and would likely get attention from the FTC.”

Before Felten took the stage, Brad Burnham, a partner with venture capital fund Union Square Ventures, said he’d like to see a system in place that would let users see what assumptions are being made about them through online tracking and modify those behavioral profiles. For example, a consumer who visits a lot of automotive sites may be pegged as an in-market car buyer, but once they purchase a car, they could go into an online dashboard and edit themselves out of the in-market car buyer attribution.

“It staves off the need for what will inevitably be some politicized, slightly clumsy regulation, and it moves us in a direction of this broader dialogue, which could include really creative ways of empowering users that don’t impact innovation,” Burnham said.

Burnham’s dashboard idea is a scaled-up version of Google’s Ads Preferences Manager—which the company highlighted in a consumer-facing ad campaign earlier this year—but would let consumers apply the behavioral profile changes across all services that track and apply that browsing data or only for a select number and have those changes applied in real time.