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Most Internet users would use DNT settings if easily available

13 February, 2013

According to a survey by IT service analysts Ovum, 68% of the Internet users would use “do-not-track” (DNT) settings to restrict the use of their personal data, if such a tool was "easily available”.

Websites and third-parties, such as advertisers, may record Internet users’ behaviour in order to serve targeted, personalised ads. Such user-specific data can be collected by several means, including the use of cookies. The information thus stored can be passed on by operators to advertisers for behavioural adverts, based on the users' activity and declared interests.

Yet, lately, consumers have become more aware of the fact that their personal information can be used as merchandise. Ovum’s survey has shown that only 14% of consumers believe Internet firms are honest about the way they use their consumers' personal data. "Unfortunately, in the gold rush that is big data, taking the supply of ‘little data’ – personal data – for granted seems to be an accident waiting to happen," said Mark Little, principal analyst at Ovum who added: "However, consumers are being empowered with new tools and services to monitor, control, and secure their personal data as never before, and it seems they increasingly have the motivation to use them."

In Little’s opinion, the Internet companies would have to change their attitudes towards their customers. The operators should make privacy tools available to consumers and use “a new set of messages to change consumers’ attitudes. These messages must be based on positive direct relationships, engagement with consumers, and the provision of genuine and trustworthy privacy controls.” Although EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes had previously asked for a new DNT standard to enable Internet users to indicate their consent for the use of their personal data in a manner that would comply with the EU's Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, last year she indicated that she would accept a DNT standard that would only partially meet the requirements under the Directive. Under the EU's amended Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, storing and accessing information on users' computers is only lawful "on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his or her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information … about the purposes of the processing".

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been working on developing a new DNT controls system which, in its opinion, should not be switched on by default but require an explicit instruction to operate. Firefox has already implemented it since 2011.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has developed its own DNT tool for its new Internet Explorer 10 web browser. The DNT setting is automatically activated and the users have to change the settings in case they wish to let websites and advertising networks track their online activity. This has obviously crossed advertising companies and the system does not actually guarantee that all companies would respect it. Yahoo! for instance, has stated that it would not "recognise IE10’s default DNT signal".

Google introduced the DNT standard in November 2012, with the launching of its Chrome 23, but warned that the results could be variable. "The effectiveness of such requests is dependent on how websites and services respond, so Google is working with others on a common way to respond to these requests in the future," wrote Google engineer Ami Fischman on the company’s blog.

Most consumers would activate do-not-track privacy settings if they were 'easily available', according to Ovum survey (6.02.2013)

The data black hole that could suck the life out of the internet economy (8.02.2013)

Google's Chrome finally embraces Do Not Track, but with a warning (7.11.2012)



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