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In recent years all major browsers have added support for the HTTP Do Not Track (DNT) header. The user is able to configure their browser to send the header with all HTTP requests to a web server, indicating that they do not wish to be tracked while browsing the site (see Wikipedia for history).

There are two contentious points with DNT:

  • There is no agreement on a browser's default DNT setting (should a browser request to not be tracked by default, or not?)

  • Sites are under no obligation to stop tracking when they receive a DNT request.

The problems for the user, naturally, are that they have to configure the DNT setting for each browser they use. But, more importantly, they do not know if it actually has any impact on the sites that they visit.

So, my question: If your site honours the DNT requests of browsers, should you inform users of this fact? And if so, how?

There was a long legal dispute on the use of Cookies, and for a while sites were required by law to inform users that they use cookies (potentially leaving a negative impression). DNT is slightly different, in that it presents an opportunity to elicit a positive response ("ah, nice, this site won't track me") from the user. In turn, this may end up improving the general user experience, correct?

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I think this question could end up in an exposition of opinions. I think that any bit of information that can reassure the user about any privacy aspect is always good, it improves his sense of security and makes him feel more trustworthy with the site, which improves the overall UX. –  PatomaS Apr 10 at 23:23
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I'm assuming that '...honours the DNT requests...' means the visitor has set the browser to 'do not track.' Clarifying because the DNT can be set to 'track me.' If a site honors DNT then each session for the same visitor would trigger a "not tracking you" message. Right? Also, a 'site' is many servers. Not all are directly under the site's control. All servers will decide whether to honor the DNT request. This makes a single message from a site potentially meaningless because some servers will honor the request while others will not. –  user1757436 Apr 11 at 20:17
    
In the EU, you do have to let users know if your site uses cookies. The alert would be a very good place to also reassure users about DNT. You can give them a cookie to make sure you don't show the message anymore when they accept, as long as you explain what that cookie is for in the "more information" bit. You should also have a permanent link in your footer to your cookie/tracking policy. I think this is very well implemented on gov.uk. –  Nathan MacInnes Apr 20 at 16:46

4 Answers 4

I can think of 3 reasons why your website should respect DNT:

  1. Ethics: respecting a user's request for privacy as they browse the web is a clear ethical requirement.

  2. From a usability perspective, it's good information for a user to know that DNT requests will be honoured as it lets them better understand what the website is doing. It sets expectations. Anything that helps the user form a better mental model of what's going on with the software will help them interact with it better.

  3. From a business perspective, I think it makes sense to respect DNT and inform the user that you do respect DNT, because it shows that you are a merchant that cares for and respects their customers. Good business means building good relationships.

As for the how, I think there are 2 main ways to inform the user:

  1. In the website's privacy policy
  2. With a universal DNT symbol

A quick search has shown that a DNT symbol (probably) does not exist yet. This symbol should be used in a similar way to the padlock symbol (used to show that a website is protected by SSL).

For a new DNT symbol, you can consider:

  1. Creating a new icon, if you wish and have the talent. You can always replace it with a better one later.
  2. This Harvard blog article uses a symbol for its article about DNT. You can ask them if you can use it.
  3. You can try asking the W3C Tracking Protection Working Group if they have an icon or would like to create one.
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As Do Not Track (DNT) is one of the steps being taken towards putting users in control of the way their information is collected and used online I feel that it is something necessary to show if it is being upheld. Although many users may not take advantage of the DNT option, there are some who do and it can't hurt to show them that their DNT is being put to use on the site. It is difficult to think of a way to show the user this though, I feel that it may be best to display it somewhere on the page and simply have it in the footer or header stating "Your DNT settings are in effect." It would look professional and you don't need to have a pup-up or something flashy showing them that the DNT is in effect. Hope this helps.

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There's no reason to inform the user that you are honoring their Do Not Track request. It is implicitly understood that if I turn on DNT, you won't track me.

From a UX perspective, just imagine a world where I visit 10 different pages, and on every page I get a confirmation that I'm not being tracked. My reaction by that point would be, "Awesome! I told you not to track me and you're not. Stop bragging about it, and let me surf the web!"

On the flip-side, if you are tracking me, you should inform me of that. As a user, I have implicitly agreed with every website I go to that I do not want to be tracked. If you have decided to break that agreement, you should inform me of that decision.

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Interesting question. Preference is we get past agreement on default (prefer leave it to software and free market decision). I don't believe confirmation back to the user that it's been honored is necessary. Regardless, insignificant to the issue which right now is that users are turning on DNT (including children) and it's being outright ignored by almost all servers.

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Can you explain a bit more why you don't think that telling the user is useful? –  PatomaS Apr 10 at 23:21

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