Grading How Well Companies Are Cooperating with ‘Do Not Track’

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Remember “Do Not Track,” the initiative in the White House’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights that called for an opt-out button for users who don’t want to be tracked by different sites? Well, it’s still alive and it has an influential new supporter — Twitter.

Right now, you can select “Do Not Track” options in Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari, which send a message to websites that you don’t feel like being followed around the web with cookies. The problem is that it’s up to individual websites to comply; there’s no legal reason why they can’t just ignore it.

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So, who is cooperating with “Do Not Track” and who is still collecting your information regardless of whether you want them to or not?

Twitter: A
Why is it such a bold move for Twitter to embrace “Do Not Track?” Because it’s still trying to figure out how to make money. Right now, the company follows you around websites that have installed Twitter buttons or widgets, basing its “Who to Follow” recommendations on which websites you’ve visited.

Allowing people to opt out of being tracked when it’s still trying to nail down a business plan is admirable. Twitter even gives easy-to-follow directions on how to do it. Along with its recent decision to fight a court order asking for a Twitter user’s data, it looks like the company is intent on getting on its user base’s good side before going public.

Yahoo: B

Yahoo claims it will implement “Do Not Track” across all of its properties by early summer, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. Yes, it hasn’t been as quick to act as Twitter, but it stands to reason that a global network of many websites would take a bit longer to get organized than a single social media site.

Still, while I’m glad the company said it’s “been working diligently to develop technical specifications and compliance guidelines for the implementation of the ‘Do Not Track’ signal,” the fact is they haven’t shown us anything concrete yet. Vague wording and vague schedules don’t do anything in the short term to placate worries about user privacy.

Google: B-

Google’s entire business model is built around having access to your data. Thus it’s easy to understand why the company has been lukewarm when it comes to implementing “Do Not Track.”

The three browsers that have “Do Not Track” options built in: Safari, Internet Explorer and Firefox. Notice one missing? That would be Google Chrome, which has a company-developed extension called “Keep My Opt-Outs” and a third-party “Do Not Track” extension, but no easy-to-use check box like other browsers. However, “Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

When the White House’s initial proposal was released in February, Google gave broad support of the initiative, saying it was pleased that the agreement “will ensure that users are given an explicit choice, and be fully informed of the available options.” Google has not, however, done much beyond the promise of a future “Do Not Track” option in Chrome.

Facebook: D

Facebook was not one of the companies to throw its support behind the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Perhaps even more so than Google, its business depends on knowing as much as possible about its users. And since Facebook just went public, it will now face pressure to from investors who want the company to monetize its giant user base.

If you dig through Facebook’s Data Use Policy, the company offers an explanation about how it uses cookies, but only extends the following advice if you don’t want to be tracked: “You can always remove or block cookies (such as by using the settings in your browser), but it may affect your ability to use Facebook.”

The reference to “settings in your browser” is different from enabling the “Do Not Track” option in Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari. In this case, it refers to removing or blocking cookies in your browser’s privacy settings section manually. Here’s how to do that in Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and Chrome.

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