Microsoft's decision to make the Do Not Track (DNT) setting turned on by default in Internet Explorer 10 has prompted developers of the widely used Apache Web server application to add a patch to their software that ignores the DNT header altogether when it is sent by the IE10 browser.
The only reason DNT exists is to express a non-default option, explained the patch's author, Roy Fielding, an Adobe employee who is also cofounder of Apache and a contributor to the DNT specification. It does not protect anyone's privacy unless the recipients believe it was set by a real human being, with a real preference for privacy over personalization.
Do Not Track is a proposed Web standard designed to give users of the Web an easy way to request that websites and online ad networks not track their browsing behavior.
All five of the big browsers, including also Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari, have a DNT option. IE10 is the only one that has it turned on by default, however. Users will have the option of turning it off if they want.
While Microsoft's approach has received support from the European Commission, advertisers, not surprisingly, have been unhappy with it. Many critics also fear that it will encourage website operators to simply ignore the DNT header, since its enablement won't necessarily say anything about the user's true preferences.
Fielding charges that Microsoft is deliberately violating the DNT standard.
The decision to set DNT by default in IE10 has nothing to do with the user's privacy, he wrote. Microsoft knows full well that the false signal will be ignored, and thus prevent their own users from having an effective option for DNT even if their users want one.
You can figure out why they want that, he added. If you have a problem with it, choose a better browser.
Comments on the new patch revealed a range of opinions as to Fielding's approach, with some calling it a personal whim.
Singles out one version of one browser, wrote commenter IDisposable, for example. Who's going to maintain the list of 'violates Roy's vision' when he finds another windmill to tilt at?
Meanwhile, Apache software is currently used by roughly two-thirds of the websites out there, according to W3Techs, so the result of this battle will surely have widespread repercussions.