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That ‘Do Not Track’ Feature on Your Phone is Actually Useless

Ever feel like your phone is tracking your data on the internet even though you have set it to “Do Not Track?” It is.

You know that “do not track” feature on your phone? It doesn’t actually do anything.

Used by millions of internet users across the world, the privacy tool is supposed to stop websites from following or tracking user activities across the world wide web. When the function is turned on in web browsers, websites visited by users are supposed to not track users, but this is rarely ever the case because the websites choose not to honor the requests – while users believe they did.

A Forrester Research survey revealed a quarter of American adults rely on the privacy tool to keep themselves untracked on the internet. The reality, however, is that the do not track (DNT) feature of web browsers appears to give a fake assurance of privacy. It does not guarantee privacy because websites can choose to ignore the request in order to continue serving ads to internet users based on places they visit online.

The data websites collect about users is dependent on the ability to track users and websites depend on the ability to track users to sell relevant and high converting ads.

DNT Is a Failed Experiment in Many Respects

Notably, Pinterest and Medium among a few other major sites do track visitors when their browsers request not to be tracked. But this is never the case with Yahoo, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and Google – internet giants that are supposed to be role models in the fight for online privacy. The Chrome browser, owned by Google, is also guilty of this offense.

And if respected internet leaders such as the aforementioned would not honor the do not track tool of internet browsers, why would porn sites such as Pornhub and xHamster among others be expected to do this?

And oh, hold that thought! Opting out of notifications or using the opt-out options given by ad companies does not help much. Because when you clear your cookies from your browsers, the opt-out setting protecting you from targeting ads clears out too, leaving you open to targeted ads.

“It is, in many respects, a failed experiment,” said Jonathan Mayer, an assistant computer science professor at Princeton University. “There’s a question of whether it’s time to declare failure, move on, and withdraw the feature from web browsers.”

Why DNT Has Remained a Failed Project for Many Years

Mayer was part of the team that designed and implemented the do not track feature for web browsers in the first place. Mayer identified a lack of government regulation for the failure of the website privacy tool. The government failed to ever give it a legal backing, such as the one given the “do not call” feature for telemarketers.

A telemarketer gets fined for violating the do not call regulation, but no website gets fined for violating the do not track request.

The second reason for the failure of the privacy request, according to Gizmodo, is that the “stakeholders” involved in setting the DNT standard-setting process could never agree to how websites should respond when they receive the do not track request – the stakeholders being privacy advocates, internet technologists, and online advertisers. The failure to reach a consensus among the stakeholders has caused them to fail at the negotiation table when pushing for websites to abide by DNT requests.

“Around 2011, the threat of federal legislation brought them to the negotiating table,” said Arvind Narayanan, a professor at Princeton University who was one of the technologists at the negotiation table. “But gradually, that threat disappeared. The prolonged negotiations, in fact, proved useful to the industry to create the illusion of a voluntary self-regulatory process, seemingly preempting the need for regulation.”

The third major problem is that internet ad companies are not ready to forgo the personal data they generate from online users because of the huge revenue streams attached to it.

Ad-blockers and Cookie-blockers to a Weak Rescue

Mayer disclosed that since DNT failed woefully, the only alternative left to internet users is ad-blocking and cookie blocking. “In a world without DNT, ad-blocking has taken off,” he told Gizmodo. But websites are developing workarounds, by putting up paywalls and pop-up requests to ask internet users to remove ad-blockers software or users will not be able to access the given sites.


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