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I know that everyone in the world today wants to know pretty much everything (possibly more than one's spouse) about everyone.

Does Stack Exchange have an official policy on honoring Do Not Track browser settings?

For what it's worth, my browser settings clearly say:

Tell sites that I do not want to be tracked

Firefox browser settings

However, upon navigating to any of the SE sites, it's evident that Do Not Track setting isn't being honored.

Privacy Badger browser extension from EFF tells me that I am being tracked:

privacy badger screenshot showing trackers

Moreover, on https://stackoverflow.com I see another site doing the same:

http://engine.adzerk.net

I understand that there is no legal requirement to honor the setting. I just wanted to understand the public stand that Stack Exchange takes in this regard?


The Privacy Policy, as of now, doesn't answer this question.

It says:

If anything in this policy seems unclear, please don’t hesitate to contact us at team@stackexchange.com, so we can address your question and possibly clarify this document.


EDIT: One of the comments claims that it's not Stack Exchange but the advertisers who are tracking. While one of the SE sites https://qa.sockets.stackexchange.com happens to be on the list of those that are attempting to track the user, the others are advertisers. Why can't Stack Exchange ensure that it's advertisers offer a mechanism of tracking opt-out?

It's funny to see that those contributing under cc-by-sa are tracked by Stack Exchange and/or it's advertisers without any clear word about the policy.


EDIT: Another comment points out that Houston, we are web bugged! is related. Please note that this post is about asking whether Stack Exchange and it's advertisers are committed to honoring "Do Not Track" settings. Regardless of what the take is, the Privacy Policy probably needs to be clear about it. If it's known that your advertisers would track the users against their wishes, then it's better to state it explicitly.


EDIT: This post claims that SE has a new, clearer, stricter privacy policy that is:

  • Actually readable by human non-lawyers

Yet it fails to answer this basic question and it appears that there is little willingness to answer it.

Is there a reason for not saying that SE and/or it's advertisers would not honor Do Not Track?

  • 2
    Is it really the wwbsite's responsibility to detect that heading and not include anything that might track a user? Because that's silly. Stack Exchange includes these resources primarily for advertisements. You make separate HTTP requests to them to download the images, etc. They get that same heading, and it's their responsibility to honor it and not track you like you request. Expecting Stack Exchange to honor it on behalf of all others means they can't link to any external resources, ever. AFAIK, Stack Exchange itself does not make any attempt to track who you are across the Internet. – animuson Jul 24 '14 at 19:25
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    @animuson I'm not sure if it sounds convincing. You seem to suggest that SE is not responsible for what advertisers do on it's site (who pay SE). Would SE let those advertisers harvest SE related personal information? Your argument essentially implies that SE would let anybody track the users as long as it gets paid in return! – devnull Jul 24 '14 at 19:43
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    Well, they're not. Saying they should be is effectively saying that a user who says they don't want to be tracked should never be shown advertisements, to protect their privacy. Tell me one company that would do that. They can try to screen their advertisers and pick ones that don't track users, but it's not as simple as just saying "don't track users if they don't want to be tracked." – animuson Jul 24 '14 at 19:48
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    @animuson The alternative for do-not-track users is not the complete absence of ads, but ads that are not based on location/personal information. – Mad Scientist Jul 24 '14 at 22:20
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    Define "track." – Doorknob Jul 27 '14 at 9:33
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    @Doorknob A couple of links in the post should help you understand that. – devnull Jul 27 '14 at 9:35
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    Not to invalidate your general point, but why do you consider the sockets.se domain to be for tracking? That's the websockets endpoint for realtime updates (upvotes, N new answers, X new comments, etc.). – balpha Jul 27 '14 at 9:38
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    @balpha The related post doesn't talk anything about honoring Do Not Track settings which is the main point in this question. – devnull Jul 29 '14 at 5:21
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    Why so defensive? I explicitly said that my question does not invalidate your point in general. All I want to know is why you claim that qa.sockets.se.com is "attempting to track the user", a question which you still haven't answered. I do think you have a valid question here, but with your passive-aggressive tone you're not doing it a favor. – balpha Jul 29 '14 at 9:17
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    @balpha I'm not sure what makes you say that I'm being defensive or passive-agressive. I understand that you might not have an answer for obvious reasons. Will remove the sockets.se domain from the question -- hopefully that will make it worth answering! Moreover, I assume that you'd have a better answer on what qa.sockets.se.com or any other domain is doing. If I had an answer I wouldn't post the question, right. – devnull Jul 29 '14 at 10:00
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    Moreover, I don't see any obligation for you or anybody else to provide an answer. Everybody knows how valuable personal information is. – devnull Jul 29 '14 at 10:08
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    2 bounties and no official answers explains everything rather well. – devnull Aug 10 '14 at 7:33
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    @ShadowWizard So calling it a community seems pretty hypocritical. Moreover, I would be tempted to argue that the Privacy Policy is misleading at best. Quoting: (1) We take the private nature of your personal information very seriously, and are committed to protecting it. (2) This privacy policy describes what information we collect when you visit the network... – devnull Aug 10 '14 at 13:01
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    @devnull, I hope the info below is helpful. Wrt your comments, I'm not deleting or editing them because we allow a much wider berth for criticism of us than others. That said, name calling ("cowards") of just about anyone other than me will get those comments deleted, and likely lead to warnings and possible suspensions. (Again, NONE of that applies here, but other users seeing those comments shouldn't conclude they'd be tolerated if directed at anyone else.) – Jaydles Aug 10 '14 at 20:56
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    Thanks @Jaydles, couldn't hope for a better response - I had a feeling this might be simple case of no right person in the right place to see this on time. – ShaWiz Aug 10 '14 at 21:01
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+100

No, we don't.

Do not track is an awesome idea that has, sadly, failed to gain meaningful traction.
If you want a layperson's summary, This Verge article, while a little stale, does a decent job of laying out some the challenges that DNT has faced.

And the problem isn't just that there's not enough support or leadership, it's that there simply is not a clearly defined standard of what compliance will ultimately be:

We believe that Do Not Track could be a success, but at this stage, must be implemented through either a legal or technical requirement.

If that line sounds self-interested, I should point out that it's not our position; I got it from Do Not Track's website, DoNotTrack.Us.

Put another way, the state of this is issue today is basically that a bunch of browsers have implemented a setting for a not-yet-agreed-upon-standard to show they care. But the whole thing is part of an ongoing legal and technical debate over what an ultimate standard will be. But it's not a standard today.

Well, if it's really so up in the air, why are so many other sites complying today? They aren't. Based on data from DNT's own official page:

Of all the sites on the internet, exactly 21 have explicitly committed to honoring some interpretation of the currently proposed standard.

Of those, I'd guess most of you will recognize fewer than five of them (I knew three).

Obviously, if this (or one of the competing tracking standards) gains widespread buy-in, that will change things. And we'd be very likely to comply with it unless it utterly destroyed our business model (which is doubtful) because we're so dependent on our users trust and goodwill - they literally make the site.

  • I won't do it because there aren't enough doing it already. If the argument were, indeed, valid then chances are that none of the 21 who have committed to honor some interpretation of the proposed standard would have done so. Such a lame response. To be honest, didn't expect anything better either. – devnull Aug 11 '14 at 1:57
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    @devnull, no disrespect, but ignoring the actual reasoning laid out at the beginning of the post, and responding as though "no one else is doing it" was our main point (rather than simply an affirmation that others have also concluded there's not an actual standard yet) feels disingenuous. I think it's hard to read my post and reasonably come away with the conclusion that that is my main argument. – Jaydles Aug 11 '14 at 2:55
  • Do not track is an awesome idea that has, sadly, failed to gain meaningful traction. -- Is this the main point? I don't see how is it different from what I interpreted. Regardless of whatever it is, the Privacy Policy doesn't tell it all. You seem to have conveniently ignored that point making it is a pretty useless answer. I thought that the question made it pretty clear that the privacy policy needs to be clear on that. – devnull Aug 11 '14 at 3:01
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    I'd say Jay's main point lies here: "And the problem isn't just that there's not enough support or leadership, it's that there simply is not a clearly defined standard of what compliance will ultimately be." Essentially, SE will likely happily comply with Do Not Track or another such protocol once there are standards that dictate what compliance actually means. – hairboat Aug 11 '14 at 5:32
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    Two years later, it is still 21. Which makes you think you made the right call here... – gdoron Oct 17 '16 at 19:43

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