Twitter abandons ‘Do Not Track’ privacy protection

The most shocking internet privacy laws.

Twitter was one of the first companies to support Do Not Track (DNT), the website privacy policy. Now, Twitter is abandoning DNT and its mission to protect people from being tracked as they wander over the web.

DNT seemed like a good idea. By setting DNT on in your web browser, websites that supported DNT could neither place nor read advertising cookies on your device. Well, that was the idea anyway.

Any web browser or application that supported DNT added a small snippet of code to its request for a web page: DNT=1. This meant websites and services that observed DNT shouldn’t track you on the internet.

This would protect your online privacy. You might think that meant “Don’t collect and store any information about me without my explicit permission.”

Wrong.

From day one in 2012, that isn’t how it worked. According to Sarah Downey, an attorney and privacy advocate, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), which represent most online advertisers, have their own interpretation of Do Not Track: “They have said they will stop serving targeted ads but will still collect and store and monetize data.”

However, Twitter played fair by the spirit of DNT rather than the law. Unfortunately, they were one of the few companies that did. DAA, for example, publicly abandoned DNT in 2013. With the advertisers and privacy advocates unable to agree on basic principles, DNT increasingly offered users no privacy protection worth the name.

Twitter finally had enough of fighting an already lost battle. In a note to its revised privacy policy, the company stated: “Twitter has discontinued support of the Do Not Track browser preference. While we had hoped that our support for Do Not Track would spur industry adoption, an industry-standard approach to Do Not Track did not materialize. We now offer more granular privacy controls.”

Under its new privacy rules, Twitter is extending how long its tracking cookies are active, from 10 days to 30 days as of June 18. You can also switch off Twitter ad personalization. From the same page, you can also disable geolocation and data sharing with third parties.

It’s a pity DNT has come to this. As Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, pointed out in an email interview: “Do Not Track still remains an elegant and simple consumer signal to not be tracked across the broader web.”

Kint remains hopeful about DNT: “Twitter dropping its support is disappointing as they were a leader here, but the standard is written regardless of what Twitter says and will continue to move forward. In the desire to regain consumer trust and reduce ad blocking, the ad tech world would be wise to embrace Do Not Track rather than ignoring it. Ultimately consumers win. No business has ever succeeded long-term without meeting consumer demands.”

I’m not at all optimistic. DNT has been spinning its wheels for years now with little progress. Online privacy remains an issue that upsets people, but at day’s end, neither companies nor the Trump administration have any real interest in protecting privacy.

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