The “Do Not Track” Setting Does Not Actually Stop Tracking

do not track

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Most browsers today, whether third party developed for download and install, or those included with your operating system, have a Do Not Track” (DNT) setting. It is that setting that is supposed to send “a special signal to websites, analytics companies, ad networks, plug in providers, and other web services you encounter while browsing, to stop tracking your activity.

Sounds good, right? Sadly, it’s mostly useless. That’s because this Do Not Track setting only asks for a voluntary response from websites. And those websites are under no requirement to respect.

Nevertheless, a hefty portion of users across many browsers use the Do Not Track setting. While DNT is disabled by default in most major web browsers, for obviously nefarious reasons, a survey conducted of 503 U.S. adults in Nov 2018 by, indicated 23.1% of respondents have consciously enabled the DNT setting on their desktop browsers.

Another recent study by the privacy-oriented search engine, DuckDuckGo, found that 24.4% of DuckDuckGo requests during a one day period came from browsers with the Do Not Track setting enabled. Obviously there are a large number of people who browse the web that think this is an important feature to have enabled on their browser.

Please note that Apple is in the process of removing the DNT setting from Safari, citing Apple’s desire to continue to track and maintain their user’s web activity.

Unfortunately, tens of millions of Americans (and many more worldwide) who enable DNT don’t know that it’s only sending a voluntary signal.

Of the respondents who heard of and were at least “slightly familiar” with the Do Not Track setting, 44.4% (±7.3) of them were not aware of its true voluntary nature. Even among those who have consciously enabled DNT in their browser, 41.4% didn’t know that it only sends a voluntary signal.

It can be alarming to realize that Do Not Track is about as foolproof as putting a sign on your front lawn that says “Please, don’t look into my house” while all of your blinds remain open. In fact, most major tech companies, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, do not respect the Do Not Track setting when you visit and use their sites – a fact of which 77.3% of U.S. adults overall weren’t aware.

There is simply a huge discrepancy between the name of the setting and what it actually does. It’s inherently misleading.

When educated about the true function and limitation of the DNT setting, 75.5% of U.S. adults say it’s “important” or “very important” that these companies “respect the Do Not Track signal when it is enabled.”

So, in shocking news, when people say they don’t want to be tracked, they really don’t want to be tracked.

As a matter of fact, 71.9% of U.S. adults “somewhat favor” or “strongly favor” a federal regulation requiring companies to respect the Do Not Track signal.

We agree and hope that governments will focus this year on efforts to enforce adherence to the Do Not Track setting when users enable it.

Just like Private Browsing (a.k.a. “Incognito”) Mode, the “Do Not Track” setting is an easily-discoverable option to enable in most browsers, but it fails to effectively educate users on what exactly it does (or doesn’t do), and falls well short of the privacy benefit users expect from it.

Incognito mode only deletes your local search and browsing history — just the content on your computer. Websites, search engines, Internet service providers, and governments can still easily track you across the web.

Until such time that the Do Not Track setting lives up to its name, you can reclaim your privacy and block trackers right now by using the DuckDuckGo browser extension and mobile app, or its browser page. StartPage is another excellent search site that also protects your privacy.


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