Blog Post

AP Is First News Organization To Use ‘Do Not Track’ On Large Scale

Both Mozilla and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) are putting Do Not Track “headers” in their new web browsers; of course, those headers are just signals that users send to websites telling them they don’t want to be tracked, and websites don’t actually have to obey that request. The big question then is how publishers and advertisers are going to respond, if at all. Some groups are starting to take action.

Among them: The AP’s News Registry, which provides analytics for 800 news websites, says it won’t track the activity of users on any of those sites as long as they have a browser with the DNT “header” turned on. In a post on its official blog, browser maker Mozilla says the AP is the first company to do that on a large scale, and that it only took a few hours for one engineer to implement.

The AP News Registry provides data to news publishers about how their own content, as well as AP content they feature, is consumed. A lot of that data-just measuring which content is most popular, for example-doesn’t involve tracking at all. But the platform can also track viewing habits across different platforms, which is useful when AP content ends up on so many different sites. That can offer deeper information about the audience, allowing publishers to get information about batches of readers that might be interested in subjects, like sports or business, or in particular brands, like the S.F. Giants or Microsoft.

Even before this change, a user could opt-out of News Registry tracking. The AP requires every site it works with to have an updated privacy policy which includes a link to the AP Registry opt-out page. But it isn’t always easy to find; if you check the San Francisco Chronicle’s website, for example, the link is at the bottom of their privacy policy page.

The decision to respect the Do Not Track signal may be a slightly easier one for the AP because they provide data to publishers, not advertisers. Still, there is some price to be paid; down the road, this could lead to many more users opting out of tracking than did before. But AP Vice President and CTO Todd Martin said the Registry will still provide a robust analytics service while making it easier for users to get what they want.

“User privacy and user preferences are important,” said Martin in an interview with paidContent. “Specific information we get from correlation is secondary to our primary objective, which is to help publishers understand how their content is being used. There are other ways to create audience segmentation.”

Users with DNT turned on who visit sites working with the AP News Registry may still end up being tracked, for now, because for most of those sites, AP is hardly the only service putting cookies on users’ browsers. The sites are, of course, working with ad networks that haven’t promised they’ll respond to DNT signals. But some of them are making small moves in that direction as well. The Digital Advertising Alliance “is initiating a process to explore incorporating the DNT header” into its self-regulatory program, according to Mozilla.