The Do Not Track feature is voluntary, gets ignored by most websites and online services, and the working group for it quietly closed down last month. Worst of all, enabling it actually allows you to be tracked.
Apple has decided to remove the “Do Not Track” feature from its Safari web browser, a move which many will initially view as a negative, but actually there’s a very good security reason for it.
Everybody has heard of “Do Not Track” but few know exactly how it works or whether it is working at all. Every major web browser includes the option to turn on the Do Not Track feature in the privacy and security settings, and it should stop websites from tracking you on a site and across sites, but the problem is not many sites honor the request (including Google, Facebook, and Twitter). That’s not why Apple is removing it, though.
As Gizmodo reports, the Safari 12.1 release notes reveal that Do Not Track is being removed because it allows for tracking! The reason stated is as follows, “Removed support for the expired Do Not Track standard to prevent potential use as a fingerprinting variable.”
Search engine DuckDuckGo carried out some privacy research recently and found how ineffective Do Not Track is. Those who take the time to enable it don’t realize the request not to track is actually voluntary, it mostly gets ignored, but it also sends a signal to each website or service announcing your presence. DuckDuckGo’s post describes it best by saying, “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.”
If that wasn’t enough of a reason to drop support, it turns out the working group for tracking protection at the W3C closed on Jan. 17. So the Do Not Track project is no longer active and it has the opposite of the intended impact for users who enable it.
Clearly all web browsers need to consider dropping support, but also to go a step further and ensure there is a working anti-tracking alternative available. Mozilla changed its approach to anti-tracking in August last year, with Firefox 65 set to include a “Strict Mode.” Apple already built an anti-tracker into WebKit for Safari. And for Google? There are quite a few things you can do.