What is “Do Not Track”?

Do Not Track is an option that empowers website visitor with the choice of disallowing tracking by the website owner. However, the success of this option depends on the willingness of website owners.

In 2009,  a team of researchers proposed a new HTTP header called Do Not Track (or DNT in short). The researchers felt that in these times people are spending more and more time in virtual space. The website owners track users’ footprints and collect data about their surfing habits. While for website owners this helps in growing their business –for users it is a privacy problem.

So, the researchers proposed that the time was ripe to give user an option whether s/he wants to be tracked or not. For this purpose Do Not Track HTTP header was proposed. Web browsers can implement an option to allow user to send Do Not Track header to the website.

Microsoft implemented DNT in December 2010 when it released Internet Explorer 9. Later this option was implemented in Firefox, Safari and Opera as well. Google Chrome, however, still does not implement this option. Google has announced that the option will be available in Chrome in later part of 2012.

It is good that the web browser makers are implementing the DNT option –but this is only half the success. A user can choose to send DNT header to a website through the option provided by the browser –but it is totally up to the website owner to honor it or not. Companies like Google and Facebook which heavily rely on tracked user data do not yet honor this header. This means if a user uses Google services or Facebook s/he will be tracked irrespective of whether DNT was chosen or not.

Twitter has lately made a forward step in this regard. The company has announced that it will honor the Do Not Track header. So, now a Twitter user can decide if s/he wants to be tracked or not.

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