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Do Not Track

Do Not Track (DNT) refers to a mechanism for communicating a user's preference regarding tracking on the World Wide Web. Tracking is the collection of data regarding a particular user's activity across multiple distinct contexts and the retention, use, or sharing of data derived from that activity outside the context in which it occurred.

The Do Not Track mechanism extends the Hypertext Transfer Protocol by generating a DNT request header field containing a value expressing the user's tracking preference.

The Do Not Track header was originally proposed in 2009 by researchers Christopher Soghoian, Sid Stamm, and Dan Kaminsky. Efforts to standardize Do Not Track by the W3C in the Tracking Preference Expression (DNT) Working Group did not make it past the Candidate Recommendation stage and ended in September 2018 due to insufficient deployment and support. Mozilla Firefox became the first browser to implement the feature, while Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari, Opera and Google Chrome all later added support.

In 2007, several consumer advocacy groups asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to create a Do Not Track list for online advertising. The proposal would have required that online advertisers submit their information to the FTC, which would compile a machine-readable list of the domain names used by those companies to place cookies or otherwise track consumers.

One week later, Microsoft announced that its next browser would include support for Tracking Protection Lists, that block tracking of consumers using blacklists supplied by third parties. In January 2011, Mozilla announced that its Firefox browser would soon provide a Do Not Track solution, via a browser header. Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari, Opera and Google Chrome all later added support for the header approach.

In January 2019 W3C Tracking Protection Working Group concluded work on Do Not Track standard citing "insufficient deployment of these extensions" and lack of "indications of planned support among user agents, third parties, and the ecosystem at large." In February 2019 Apple Safari 12.1 was released without support for DNT to avoid it being used as a "fingerprinting variable" for tracking.

When using the "Express" settings upon installation, a Do Not Track option is enabled by default for Internet Explorer 10 and Windows 8. Microsoft faced criticism for its decision to enable Do Not Track by default from advertising companies, who say that use of the Do Not Track header should be a choice made by the user and must not be automatically enabled. The companies also said that this decision would violate the Digital Advertising Alliance's agreement with the U.S. government to honor a Do Not Track system, because the coalition said it would only honor such a system if it were not enabled by default by web browsers. A Microsoft spokesperson defended its decision however, stating that users would prefer a web browser that automatically respected their privacy.

On April 3, 2015, Microsoft announced that as of Windows 10, it would comply with the specification and no longer enable Do Not Track as part of the operating system's "Express" default settings, but that the company will "provide customers with clear information on how to turn this feature on in the browser settings should they wish to do so".

There are no legal or technological requirements for the use of DNT. Websites and advertisers may either honor or ignore DNT requests. The Digital Advertising Alliance, Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Direct Marketing Association does not require its members to honor DNT signals. There are organizations such as DataNeutrality that are involved in setting DNT guidelines for private companies involved in data collection.