Apache webserver patch set to ignore IE10's Do Not Track feature

By Lee Kaelin on September 11, 2012, 5:30 PM

An Apache HTTP webserver developer has stirred up controversy after releasing an update for the webserver application to Github that ignores Internet Explorer 10's "Do Not Track" (DNT) settings. Roy Fielding, an architect of the DNT standard, an Adobe employee and the chief scientist for Apache, says he made the changes because Microsoft is deliberately violating the standard -- a fact Apache won't tolerate.

"[DNT] must reflect the user's preference, not the choice of some vendor, institution, or network-imposed mechanism outside the user’s control." DNT is intended to give computer users a simple means of preventing their browsing habits from being tracked by websites and advertisement networks. Although it's yet to be finalized, it hasn't stopped Microsoft from adding its own interpretation to its Web browser.

In June, Microsoft said that IE10 would enable DNT by default, which raised curiosity and anger in equal measures because the decision seemed contrary to an agreement made with the Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of which Microsoft is a member. The company agreed with all parties to honor DNT as long as it was not made the default setting for all browsers.

Critics of Fielding's patch say that users are informed DNT will be enabled when they select the "express settings" option during the final stages of installation and, as such, IE10 is fully compliant with the standard. They argue that it isn't Apache's job to police the standard.

"The only reason DNT exists is to express a non-default option," Fielding wrote when defending the patch. "That's all it does. It does not protect anyone's privacy unless the recipients believe it was set by a real human being, with a real preference for privacy over personalization."

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