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Privacy & Data

Pinterest Moves to Support Do Not Track

Despite serious uncertainty in the path forward on a “Do Not Track” (DNT) standard for the web, today another large web property, Pinterest, is taking an important step to support user choices around data collection. Specifically, Pinterest announced a commitment to honor DNT, including building into their general service tracking control options for their users. In case you’ve missed out, Pinterest is a rapidly growing photo-oriented social networking site where users post, collect, and organize images and share these collections with each other. Pinterest’s move is similar to Twitter — the microblogging site, who in May of last year also began to recognize and honor DNT signals.

Pinterest, as is increasingly the case with user-oriented web services, would like to better personalize and increase the relevance of suggestions that they make to their users as to what images they may like and what “boards” — places where people collect images based on themes — they might find especially interesting given the user’s interests. However, doing this kind of customization requires knowing a bit about each user’s interest, which means Pinterest must keep track of each user’s interests. Therefore, they may want to track some of the sites their users visit, a practice that some users may not be comfortable with. To accomplish this, Pinterest logs what their users do on the site, and also notes when they see someone load a page that includes Pinterest’s “Pin it!” button.

To obey DNT when Pinterest sees the DNT:1 signal, meaning that the user has set the “Do Not Track” preference in their web browser, Pinterest has agreed to not store information about what their users do elsewhere around the web. While there has been considerable debate about what DNT should mean — “do not collect” data vs. “do not target” users vs. “practice good data hygiene” — Pinterest is taking a strong stance and interpreting DNT to squarely mean “do not collect.” That means Pinterest will not keep any tracking-related information about users that either set the DNT preference in their browsers or that specify in their Pinterest settings that they do not want suggestions tailored to them using their web activity.

Popular wisdom states that one data point is an anecdote, and two are data. This commitment by Pinterest points to a desire amongst large publishers and first-party websites to modify their practices, products and services to abide by DNT on behalf of their users and to give users a clear choice through which they can adjust collection of data about their online activity. While many of the third-party entities on the web — advertisers, ad networks, bidding platforms, etc. — seem to be moving away from support of a unified, usable method to express a desire to not be tracked, like DNT, it’s encouraging to see this move from Pinterest. Other companies that have a direct relationship with users, including Twitter and the Associated Press, have also decided that DNT makes sense in terms of their business and users’ experience. This will hopefully lead to more companies supporting consumer choice and privacy, which has long been a priority of CDT.