AOL Just Says No to Do-Not-Track Requests

AAOL Just Says No to Do-Not-Track RequestsOL has a new privacy policy effective September 15. The new directive specifies that the company’s properties — including the recently acquired Gravity — will not honor the do-not-track requests that consumers send through their browsers.

“Previously, Gravity provided users with the ability to use the browser ‘Do Not Track’ signal to opt out of certain personalization,” Gravity states on its website. “AOL has consolidated and simplified many of the preferences and opt-outs we offer, and as a result, ‘Do Not Track’ browser signals will no longer be recognized.”

As reported by MediaPost, “Gravity says that users can eschew personalization by visiting an opt-out page, including the ones operated by the Digital Advertising Alliance and Network Advertising Initiative. But privacy advocates say that opting out through links on those sites poses challenges, because those links are tied to cookies — which are seen as unstable, given that consumers who are especially privacy conscious often delete their cookies.”

AOL’s other brands will also ignore the browser-based signals. But that’s now par for the course for most platforms, as outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium.

“The do­-not-track commands aren’t aimed at preventing publishers from collecting data about their own visitors, says the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Justin Brookman, who chairs the W3C’s effort to forge a consensus about how to respond to the signals,” says MediaPost. “In fact, publishers are allowed to gather information from users who have activated do-not-track, according to the W3C’s most recent formulation of the concept.”

Though major browser companies offer do-not-track headers — informing publishers and ad networks that users don’t want to be tracked — the header doesn’t actually prevent tracking.

The unadulterated truth? Ad networks and publishers are free to ignore the signals.

AOL, like others, might change direction if the industry reaches a consensus about do-not-track. “If and when a standard for responding is established, we may revisit its policy on responding to these signals,” the company noted.

Not everyone is happy about the development. One commenter at Media Post, Mike O’Neill from Baycloud Systems, commented:

“Do Not Track is a universally recognised signal that can be sent in any web request, and has been supported by all major browsers for over 2 years.Some, like AOL and Yahoo, may refuse to honour the signal at all if they think they can get away with it, but that will hardly impress the majority of people, i.e. their potential customers, who have concerns about online privacy and security.”