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Microsoft Battles Major Advertisers Over 'Do Not Track' Browser Feature

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It's Goliath vs. a bunch of other Goliaths in an online privacy war.

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MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL In the world of Internet browsers, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer is often seen as the competition-crushing Goliath who has nearly obliterated Netscape and is now trying to do the same to Mozilla's Firefox. But in the realm of online advertising, it appears the Redmond, Washington-based company has found a new role: A fearless advocate for defenseless consumers.

In an online age where data trackers follow every movement made by people surfing the Web and sell the information for targeted advertising purposes, the upcoming Internet Explorer 10 has chosen to offer a "Do Not Track" option -- which would prevent companies from collecting online information -- as a default browser setting, rather than making consumers have to opt in on the feature.

Currently, Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Safari both have the Do Not Track capability as an opt-in feature. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), the other browser titan, will add Do Not Track to its Chrome browser by the year's end, though it is unclear if the company will present it as the default option.

Unsurprisingly, this decision does not sit well with advertisers. Advertising industry groups such as the Association of National Advertisers, or ANA, have launched fervent campaigns to prevent browsers from making Do Not Track an opt-out feature.

A few weeks ago, the ANA sent an open letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer saying that Microsoft's move will "undercut the effectiveness of our members' advertising and, as a result, drastically damage the online experience by reducing the Internet content and offerings that such advertising supports. This result will harm consumers, hurt competition, and undermine American innovation and leadership in the Internet economy."

The letter, signed by a host of major companies including AT&T (NYSE:T), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), Toyota (NYSE:TM), and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), added, "Microsoft's action is wrong. The entire media ecosystem has condemned this action…In the face of this opposition and the reality of the harm that your actions could create, it is time to realign with the broader business community by providing choice through a default of 'off' on your browser's 'Do Not Track' setting."
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