Internet Explorer 10's 'do not track' risks upsetting users, finds poll

Autofill and password caching valued as much as privacy

Microsoft's decision to turn on Internet Explorer 10's 'do not track' (DNT) setting by default could turn some consumers against the browser if it interferes with features such as password retention and autofill, a new survey has concluded.

Ever since it was announced some months ago that IE10 would make the 'do not track' decision for users, large advertisers have protested that this risked undermining the ad personalisation on which much Internet commerce depends.

The main objection was that the decision to turn on 'do not track' should be made by the consumer not by Microsoft.

Digital advertising firm Mediasyndicator's YouGov poll of 1,987 UK adults found a degree of confusion about the pros and cons of such an approach to privacy.

A surprisingly high 45 percent said they opted out of cookies, with more than half saying that the targeted advertising generated by cookie tracking was rarely relevant.

In particular 'retargeted' ads - ads served to visitors after they have left a website - don't go down well, with only 1 percent describing them as 'relevant'. Forty-four percent claim they simply ignore retargeted ads altogether.

Confusingly, a third said they'd stop using browsers that imposed do not track by default if that stopped them benefitting from other conveniences such as password retention and autofill, with 87 percent valuing such features.

"Our results show that these are actions borne more out of lack of knowledge and confusion about the purpose of tracking technology, which has actually been designed to improve and personalise the services offered to them on the web," argued Mediasyndicator CEO, Spyro Korsanos.

"The backlash against tracking technology is also partly due to irritation amongst users being overly re-targeted with people having ads following them around on the web - something attributable to less human judgment in chain of automated ad technology and placements."

The interpretation that users might turn against IE10 because it sets DNT by default seems a bit of a stretch; the number of sites for which stored passwords and autofill are set by cookies is for most users a small fraction of the total number collected during browsing.

While some sites use cokkies as a way of easing consumer access many more use it is simply a way of serving advertising or tracking browsing habits. Without understanding the technology in detail, users have worked this out and become suspicious.

Consequently many users now set browsers to clear cookies after each session, logging in to those sites using secure password managers or whitelisting cookies for specific domains (as can be achieved with Firefox).

Launched as part of Windows 8 in October, a preview version of IE10 for Windows 7 was launched two weeks ago.

All this comes only months after the EU's e-Privacy Directive which requires European companies to ask for consent when storing cookies.

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