Do Not Track Feature Makes It Easy to Block Analytics

Ujwal Neelakantan, Former Viget

Article Category: #Strategy

Posted on

In hopes of continually protecting my computer, I’m always faithful to my antivirus program, AVG. A few weeks ago, I was intrigued by its latest summer update, which boasted its new Do Not Track (DNT) feature.

AVG’s DNT scans for tracking cookies and conveniently displays the trackers on each site. These trackers are categorized into Ad Networks, Social Buttons, and Web Analytics. Currently, the default option only blocks ad networks and does not block social buttons, like Google +1, or web analytics, such as Google Analytics. It appears that its main purpose is to block third party cookies from ad networks. At the same time, with just a single click of a button, you can choose to block any or all of the trackers across sites in a browser. For example, here’s a screenshot of Viget’s latest job posting and the trackers from the page:

I tested the DNT feature with Viget’s website by blocking analytics trackers, and it worked - the Google Analytics cookies were not created.

The DNT feature increases awareness on tracking cookies, but does not really distinguish the difference between analytics and ad network cookies unless you take the time to read through the documentation. Analytics services use first-party cookies that do not collect personally identifiable information. Instead, these cookies are only accessed by the domain and help inform decisions about site usability, which create a better experience for the user. The issue of infringing on a person’s privacy, however, primarily stems from ad networks and third party cookies that share information across sites (To get a better understanding of cookies, check out Avinash’s post on tracking cookies). Although DNT is not yet prevalent, it may expand over time, as evidenced by Microsoft’s planned DNT feature in IE10 and plenty of other tools. Offering the feature with anti-virus software definitely makes it easier to block analytics without much effort.

It’s good  for users to have options, but if DNT becomes widely adopted, the ability to block analytics could do more harm than good. If analytics tools are positioned in a negative light and are easy to block, adoption of DNT could grow. Website metrics would then be under-reported and inaccurate, which would only misguide the improvement of websites, hurting the web as a whole.

Do you think the DNT feature will gain traction and become widely used? Is the future of analytics in the hands of anti-virus software?

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