Think tank's website rejects browser do-not-track requests

Do-not-track technology could hurt the ability of websites to deliver free services to users, the ITIF says

The website for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) now tells visitors it will not honor their browsers' do-not-track requests as a form of protest against the technology pushed by privacy groups and parts of the U.S. government.

The tech-focused think tank on Friday implemented a new website feature that detects whether visitors have do-not-track features enabled in their browsers and tells them their request has been denied.

"Do Not Track is a detrimental policy that undermines the economic foundation of the Internet," Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the ITIF wrote in a blog post. "Advertising revenue supports most of the free content, services, and apps available on the Internet."

Behavioral advertising, which tracks Web users in order to deliver relevant advertising to them, is a service in which "everyone wins," he added. "Ad-supported websites increase their revenue, users receive fewer irrelevant ads and more free content, and advertisers get to be in front of their target audiences."

Many websites do not honor browser do-not-track requests, Castro said. "We are just being explicit about it," he said in an email.

Firefox and recent versions of Internet Explorer include do-not-track options for users. Google plans to implement do-not-track in its Chrome browser.

Privacy groups, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and some lawmakers have pushed do-not-track technology as a way for Web users to control who collects their personal information.

In May, FTC Chairman Jon Liebowitz called on U.S. lawmakers to encourage the Internet industry to embrace do-not-track technologies. "A do-not-track mechanism should be implemented universally to cover all parties that would track consumers," he said then.

Over the long term, do-not-track could cause huge problems for Internet businesses, if browser users embrace the technology on a large scale, Castro wrote. "Website operators will see a substantial decrease in revenue," Castro said in his blog post. "A substantial decrease in revenue means a corresponding substantial decrease in free (or low-cost) content, apps and services. Or websites could try make up lost revenue by filling their websites with more untargeted ads."

Some websites may end up blocking users who have do-not-track enabled, just as some websites have put up pay walls to block nonpaying users. There are several plugins for blog platform WordPress that allows blog operators to block users who run ad-blocking software, he noted.

"Website owners will likely have similar tools if Do Not Track becomes widespread," Castro added. "It is my hope that with this alert ITIF will be able to remind people how easy it would be for sites to block users who enable Do Not Track, and by outlining how this will likely play out, policy makers will realize this is a useless endeavor."

Castro called on U.S. policymakers to focus on "meaningful efforts" to protect privacy.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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