DNT might be useful

I’ve been bearish on Do Not Track. Providing user control over tracking is useful, but DNT has seemed to have exactly zero utility, being the Internet-tracking equivalent of the evil bit. Trackers have little incentive to use it, short of regulatory pressure or just trying to be good people, and the particularly bad actors who I might really want to keep my data away from are never going to respect it even with regulation. So turn on RequestPolicy and forget about it.

Then this crossed my radar. Twitter is personalizing the new-user experience based on tracking data collected via tweet buttons, so your new account automatically has suggestions of people to follow that might actually be relevant. This has huge implications for improving experience for new users; a lot of the benefit of Twitter depends on the streams you follow, and connecting users to relevant streams right off the bat seems like a great way to dramatically improve the quality of the initial experience and thereby improve user retention.

Thanks in part to Do Not Track, Twitter is also building this feature in the most responsible way I can imagine:

  • If you have Do Not Track set in your browser, they don’t track your data.
  • They purge data after 10 days, so they don’t hang on to it indefinitely and your new-user experience is only based on the last 10 days of web visits.
  • They describe the feature, and the data they collect.

Since this feature is targeting new Twitter users, it is not reasonable to build it as an opt-in. If DNT didn’t exist, I would argue that Twitter probably shouldn’t build this kind of feature because it’s invisible to users & tracks them without their ability to do anything about it short of drastic action like RequestPolicy or NoScript.

But DNT allows it to be built. If I set DNT, I can opt out of this service and any future, similarly-responsible service. I can control my data in a general way. And the existence of DNT gives Twitter the ability to build and deploy this kind of an experience-enhancing service in a way that respects user privacy preferences.

Epic win.

DNT still does not keep bad actors from tracking you. There are still incentive issues with supporting it. But its existence allows remarkable new features, with substantial user benefit, to be built in a responsible and user-respecting way. That is a major step forward, and one that I can support.