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Privacy & Data

CDT Releases Draft Definition of ‘Do Not Track’

Washington – The Center for Democracy & Technology today released a proposal that sketches the parameters of what Do Not Track (DNT) means.  The document is intended to identify the types of behaviors that DNT should prohibit, and jumpstart a discussion aimed at developing a common understanding of the terms of this emerging technology.  

The concept of DNT technology is gaining momentum; however, definitions underlying technology—such as what "tracking" actually means—are still in flux.

"Defining clear guidelines for the scope of DNT will empower users and provide the kind of clarity companies need if the technology is to be widely adopted," said Justin Brookman, director of CDT's Privacy Project.  "Once the principles underlying the concept of 'tracking' are well understood, development of efficient DNT mechanisms—and their predictable use by all entities on the Web–will follow."

CDT suggests that the following definition for "tracking" in the context of Do Not Track:

Tracking is the collection and correlation of data about the Internet activities of a particular user, computer, or device, over time and across non-commonly branded websites, for any purpose other than fraud prevention or compliance with law enforcement requests.

CDT's proposal contains a chart with preliminary recommendations for what activities should and should not be considered "tracking," for the purposes of DNT followed by an in-depth discussion on terms and definitions directly related to the technology.

For example, CDT's proposal suggests that, as a starting point, the following activities should be considered "tracking"

  • Third-party online behavioral advertising
  • Third-party behavioral data collection for first party uses
  • Third-party behavioral data collection for other uses
  • Behavioral data collected by first parties and transferred to third parties in identifiable form

"With browser developers beginning to roll out DNT mechanisms, now is time to figure out—and agree on—exactly what the phrase 'do not track me' means for consumers," said Leslie Harris, President of CDT.  "Once that happens, users can understand what to expect from Do Not Track technology and companies will know how to implement it."

CDT's proposal emphasizes that DNT does not fix all privacy concerns.  CDT continues to advocate for a baseline, comprehensive privacy bill that provides substantive protections that fully protect users and promotes trust in the online environment.