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[liberationtech] Do Not Track Dangerous and Ineffective

Sarah A. Downey sarah at
Wed Feb 13 11:19:17 PST 2013

True. As a standard and a header, it's great--simple to implement,
straightforward. As implemented, it does nothing. And like you point out,
it's a misnomer. It provides a false sense of security.

Advertisers have fought really hard to weaken it and effectively make it Do
Not Target, despite the fact that most Americans--60 percent--say they want
DNT to stop websites from collecting information about them, while only 14%
chose the ad industry’s “Do Not Target” interpretation. (UC

The back and forth around Do Not Track hasn't brought regular web users any
closer to controlling or blocking tracking. Sure, there are add-ons and other
tools designed to block it (like DoNotTrackMe, Disconnect, PrivacyFix, and
Ghostery), but few people have even heard of the DNT option within the
browsers they use every day, let alone small browser add-ons.

Do Not Track needs some teeth, which can come from at least several places:
- *Publisher/content provider-driven*: Websites can implement Do Not Track
in a way that actually stops data collection, in line with consumers'
expectations (for example, Microsoft is broadcasting the DNT header by
default in IE, but they could say that upon *receiving *that same signal on
any of their web properties, they'd cease personal data collection)
- *Advertiser-driven: *Advertisers across the board agree to implement it
in a way that actually stops data collection (but don't hold your breath)
- *Government-driven: *Regulation somehow makes DNT an enforceable standard
- *Software-driven: *There's a more widespread consumer movement towards do
not track add-ons that block tracking, not merely set opt-out cookies or other
passive methods that rely on advertiser compliance

*Something *needs to happen--the last thing people need is another Private
Browsing Mode (sounds good in theory; doesn't do much for privacy in


On Wed, Feb 13, 2013 at 1:57 PM, Nadim Kobeissi <nadim at> wrote:

> Dear LibTech,
> I've written a blog post about a problem with web privacy practice that's
> been bothering me for a long time. I think there needs to be a discussion
> about Do Not Track — there are many problems with this privacy standard and
> some of its implications may in fact be substantially dangerous.
> My blog post is accessible here:
> ------------
> "Do Not Track" Dangerous and Ineffective
> In 2009, before I became seriously involved in web security, a standard
> called Do Not Track was proposed, standardized by the W3C in 2011, and
> implemented in Internet Explorer, followed by Mozilla Firefox and Google
> Chrome.
> Do Not Track is supposed to prevent websites from tracking your activity
> online, probably for advertising purposes. It works by making your browser
> politely ask every website you visit to not set tracking cookies and so on.
> There are real, dangerous problems with this approach and I really cannot
> believe it was ever taken seriously. Now that it’s implemented and
> standardized so widely, it’s become a serious threat to how Internet
> privacy is perceived.
> The main problem with Do Not Track is that it lulls users into a
> completely false sense of privacy. Do Not Track works by simply asking the
> websites you’re visiting not to track you — the websites are completely
> free to ignore this request, and in most cases it’s impossible for the user
> to find out that their Do Not Track request was in fact discarded. When the
> user therefore enables Do Not Track on their browser, they are lulled into
> a false belief that they are no longer being tracked, even though from a
> security perspective, the tracking prevention that Do Not Track presents is
> useless.
> In fact, Google’s search engine, as well as Microsoft’s (Bing), both
> ignore the Do Not Track header even though both companies helped implement
> this feature into their web browsers. Yahoo Search also ignored Do Not
> Track requests. Some websites will politely inform you, however, of the
> fact that your Do Not Track request has been ignored, and explain that this
> has been done in order to preserve their advertising revenue. But not all
> websites, by a long shot, do this.
> Do Not Track is not only ineffective: it’s dangerous, both to the users it
> lulls into a false belief of privacy, and towards the implementation of
> proper privacy engineering practice. Privacy isn’t achieved by asking those
> who have the power to violate your privacy to politely not do so — and thus
> sacrifice advertising revenue — it’s achieved by implementing client-side
> preventative measures. For browsers, these are available in examples such
> as EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere, Abine’s DoNotTrackMe, AdBlock, and so on. Those
> are proper measures from an engineering perspective, since they attempt to
> guard your privacy whether the website you’re visiting likes it or not.
> Do Not Track needs serious revision, replacement or simply removal. As it
> is right now, its only discernible function is to promise users with little
> to moderate computer knowledge (most of the world) that they’re browsing in
> privacy, while in reality discouraging them from adopting real privacy
> solutions that work. Web privacy and security engineers need to have a
> discussion about this.
> NK
> --
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*Sarah A. Downey*
Privacy Analyst  |  Attorney
Abine <http://goog_822727389>, Inc <>:  Online privacy
starts here.
t:  @SarahADowney <>  |  p:  800.928.1987
Blogging on privacy at
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