Somewhere around a decade ago, maybe less– I’m losing memory brain cells by the minute– the idea of Do Not Track was born; a way to tell websites that track you to, well, not track you during a visit.
How did that idea work out? First, applause by privacy advocates. Then, Apple and other browser makers implemented the Do Not Track functionality. Finally, websites ignored it anyway, because, well, tracking is more profitable than your wishes.
Macho, Much, Man?
The problem was obvious but in the euphoria of user controlled tracker permissions, everyone forgot that the deal was voluntary. Websites were free to ignore the Do Not Track request, so, guess what? Most websites did ignore it. DNT remains in Safari, but word on the streets is that Apple has plans to drop it.
Indeed. Why bother.
Lukasz Olejnik explains:
DNT has suffered from users’ misunderstanding of how it works. People don’t seem to know that DNT doesn’t make you invisible; it merely informs websites that you would prefer not to be tracked. But just because its purpose might be misunderstood doesn’t mean DNT should go away.
Yet, there is hope on the horizon and we have the European Union’s privacy laws– think GDPR– to thank for a privacy DNT renaissance of sorts. Why didn’t something so useful to browser users not gain ground?
In May 2018, when the EU enacted the General Data Protection Regulation, the problem with pop-ups was reinforced, which in retrospect was easy to predict.
That was then, this is now.
The European Parliament pushed hard toward making the browser mechanisms for user privacy preferences and consent expressions legally binding, and it issued a report that explicitly endorsed Do Not Track settings as a way of expressing consent.
Do Not Track is a hot item again but Apple needs to step in and make it work because the EU is a slow moving body of regulators and the interwebs is a vastly complex enterprise that does not have your best interest at heart.
What can Apple do?
Safari or macOS and iOS needs a Do Not Track switch that prevents websites from using trackers entirely. Mozilla’s Firefox has settings which help get there– and so do other browsers– but they are cumbersome to implement, so only the most thoughtful and technologically savvy users bother.
No, Apple needs a Kill Switch that kills ALL trackers; not just browser trackers. Apps also track you while you’re using the app, and often that data is sent to Google’s Analytics tracker system. In fact, two DNT Kill Switch settings would be useful. One for Safari. One for macOS and iOS. Click and nobody can track you without your permission.
Apple could do it but it would cost the company billions in profits each year, thanks to the exclusive agreement with Google to keep Google as the default browser on Safari; Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
Apple’s executives need to grow a pair and put customer privacy ahead of Google’s monthly payments to Apple’s warehouses of profits.