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'Do Not Track' system rapped over lack of renown

22 May 2012
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The effectiveness of user privacy system, 'Do Not Track' (DNT) has been questioned by a prominent security expert, who argued that lack of user awareness is undermining the system.

The warning came from SANS Institute chief research officer Johannes Ullrich. He said that the lack of user awareness and requirement to opt-in nature would limit the DNT system.

DNT allows for users to opt out of tracking by various internet sites, including analytics services, advertising networks, and social platforms. By enabling a special HTML header in their browser preferences, users can request that sites refrain from tracking their activity.

Despite its support in internet browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari, DNT has yet to be adopted by many third-party websites. Experts believe the initiative is being held back because of its voluntary nature and lack of consumer awareness.

"There is no technical means to enforce use of the DNT header. Some legal protections are in the works, but as usual they will probably only apply to legitimate advertisers who are likely going to comply,' Ullrich said in a blog post.

"DNT will only matter if enough advertisers sign up to respect it."

Ullrich contends that the biggest issues facing DNT are the initiatives' optional nature and the programmes lack of user awareness. DNT has found some support from companies like Twitter, but has yet to be embraced by the larger market.

"The "Do Not Track" header is usually not enabled by default," continued Ullrich. "I do not think many users know about it, or how to enable it."

DNT's slow adoption comes in spite of the White Houses urging sites to adopt the functionality. Back in 2009 US president Obama threw his support behind DNT with the creation of the "Consumer Privacy Bill of Right."

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Shaun Nichols

Shaun Nichols is the US correspondent for He has been with the company since 2006, originally joining as a news intern at the site's San Francisco offices.

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