Three of the four main browser companies–Mozilla, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), and Apple–either have or will soon have in their browsers a Do Not Track “HTTP header”–a persistent electronic signal–that tells advertisers and publishers when users don’t want to be tracked online. The DNT signal doesn’t really do much at this point, but Google (NSDQ: GOOG) still looks increasingly like the holdout. Today, chief privacy officers at Google and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) explained why implementing “Do Not Track” isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Asked at the pii2011 conference why the company couldn’t comply with what is quickly becoming “the industry standard” when it comes to Do Not Track, Google’s chief privacy lawyer, Keith Enright, responded that the definition of tracking just isn’t that clear. “What is the industry standard? I understand there is work around a header, and we are looking at ways to incorporate that across various parts of our business. But I don’t know what a Do Not Track header is–I don’t know what that means. There is certain information we need to maintain in a [web browsing] session. We need more granularity and a more reasonable understanding of what it means to honor [Do Not Track] in a meaningful way.”
Anne Toth, head of privacy at Yahoo, gave a similar answer. “Right now, when a consumer puts Do Not Track in the header, we don’t know what they mean,” she explained. “Privacy is not a one size fits all thing. Is analytics included in that? is first-party customization included in that? I think it’s fair for Google to say, it’s going to hang out until it figures out what it means first. If we all do privacy in radically different way, we’re going to confuse consumers.”
One thing is for sure–three out of four browsers have at least include the infrastructure for a Do Not Track system, including the notoriously aloof Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). That means that questions about why Google is the one big holdout in the web browser business won’t go away.
In the same discussion, Google’s Enright also put a positive spin on the company’s recent unprecedented privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. “As part of the work we’re doing with the FTC, we’re building what I think is the best privacy program in the world,” he said.