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Microsoft hit with advertiser complaints over IE10 'do not track' feature

A US advertising group this week published an open letter in protest of Microsoft's plan to turn "do not track" technology on by default in Internet Explorer 10.

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) penned a letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, general counsel Brad Smith, and chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie in which it argued that having "do not track" on by default will result in advertisers fleeing the Web and crushing ad-supported Internet content.

"This result will harm consumers, hurt competition, and undermine American innovation and leadership in the Internet economy," the ANA board of directors wrote.

At issue are ad networks and other companies that track Web users' online activity. Some of this activity is useful - serving up targeted ads based on habits, for example, or keeping you logged in on sites to which you surf frequently. But sometimes users are unaware that this tracking is going on, and there have been concerns about how companies use the data they collect about Internet users.

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that "do not track" would be turned on by default in IE10. But in August, it clarified that there will be some options for those who don't want it. In setting up a Windows 8 PC, users will be given the option to select "Express Settings" or "Customize." Those who select Express will have "do not track" automatically enabled on their browser, while Customize will allow users to turn it off.

ANA said today that the Redmond, Washington firm's decision on default tracking was "shocking" given Microsoft's involvement in the development of industry best practices for online tracking. "The entire media ecosystem has condemned this action," according to the ANA.

"ANA's Board of Directors is very upset that the choice being made by Microsoft is one that will ultimately threaten to reduce the vast array of free content and services available to consumers," the group continued. "When presented as a default 'on,' by design Microsoft is no longer creating a choice of whether or not data about consumers will be tracked. Rather, Microsoft appears determined to stop the collection of web viewing data. That is unacceptable. The result of such a large percentage of data collection being blocked seriously undermines consumers' interests by potentially diminishing the robust content and services available over the Internet."

The group requested an "immediate dialogue" with Microsoft before the release of IE10, which is expected with the 26 October launch of Windows 8.

In a statement, Microsoft said "its approach to DNT in Internet Explorer 10 is part of our commitment to privacy by design and putting people first. We believe consumers should have a consistent experience and more control over how data about their online behavior is tracked, shared and used. We also believe that targeted advertising can be beneficial to both consumers and businesses. As such, we will continue to work towards an industry-wide definition of tracking protection."