Microsoft and Apache clash over browser privacy

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Apache httpd to ignore privacy setting.

Microsoft's controversial Do Not Track privacy feature for the upcoming Internet Explorer 10 web browser will be ignored by the world's most popular web server, the Apache Foundation's open source httpd.

Do Not Track or DNT was developed by W3C's Tracking Protection Group with the intention of allowing users to express their preferences when it came to who can follow them around the web.

Several large companies are members of the W3C group, including Adobe, Google, Comcast, and Microsoft.

The controversy stems from Microsoft's decision to enable DNT in IE10 by default, a move that Roy Fielding, principal scientist at Adobe and one of the co-founders of the Apache HTTP Server Project, said is a deliberate violation of the standard.

He issued a patch named "Apache does not tolerate deliberate abuse of open standards" for the web server's configuration file that lets it ignore DNT settings flagged by browsers.

But this has by itself become a controversial issue, with Apache HTTP users arguing it was the wrong thing to do as users assume their requests will be honoured by the web server they connect to.

Fielding defended his patch saying that "the only reason DNT exists is to express a non-default option."

"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 personalisation," Fielding wrote in a comment to his patch.

"The decision to set DNT by default in IE10 has nothing to do with the user's privacy.

"Microsoft knows full well that the false signal will be ignored, and thus prevent their own users from having an effective option for DNT even if their users want one".

DNT was introduced last year as a draft after the European Commission told web advertisers that they had to agree on a privacy standard by the middle of this year, or face regulation.

"If I don't see a speedy an satisfactory development, I will not hesitate to employ all available means to ensure our citizens' right to privacy," the EU commissioner Neelie Kroes said at the time.

The efficiency of DNT is under debate, with developer site Webmonkey saying the feature is "highly flawed and who supports it or not is a moot point." 

"Asking advertisers not to set tracking cookies is like asking Cookie Monister not to eat them," Webmonkey said, arguing users who really want to stop advertisers from tracking them need to use browser add-ons like Ghostery and Do Not Track Plus.

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