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Why NAI Cannot Support DNT On-by-Default

Media coverage related to Microsoft’s recently expressed intent to implement Internet Explorer 10’s ‘Do Not Track’ (DNT) function by default in its next release has compelled thoughtful responses from many stakeholders in the digital advertising and publishing ecosystem and NAI member inquiries.

NAI can’t accept a browser mechanism that threatens the health and vitality of the entire online ecosystem. This does not mean we oppose user choice; in fact, we’ve been working at the W3C and elsewhere on standards for browser-based choice mechanisms. The DAA, too, has committed to implement a browser-based choice mechanism based on its guiding principles.

But with a default-on mechanism, the impact on small online publishers and third-party technology providers, which are vital to today’s Internet, would be nothing short of catastrophic. Publishers of free content, services, and entertainment may move behind pay walls, or may disappear altogether, if they can’t monetize their content with targeted ads. For many third party companies, which facilitate interest-based ads or personalization, a default-on system jeopardizes their business – meaning no business. I don’t like to inject hyperbole into this discussion, but we are talking about no less than thousands of lost jobs and billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Others have raised concerns that the Internet becomes a handful of giant publishers and providers who will develop advertising models that work around Do Not Track altogether. Such an outcome may be OK for some stakeholders in the debate – a reasonable casualty of default Do Not Track — but that is little comfort to the threatened businesses in the NAI who are working hard now to create relevant advertising while respecting consumer privacy.

Numerous tools and choice mechanisms (such as browser settings, plug ins, and self-regulatory programs) already exist today for consumers who have privacy concerns about interest-based advertising. A new browser choice mechanism could be beneficial to the Internet, but not if it presents an “off switch” to every online user without explaining the consequences of flipping that switch for the online content they enjoy, and certainly not if that switch is flipped by default by the largest online players.

If you have questions about these commitments or our position on DNT being turned on by default, we encourage you to contact us directly.