Microsoft’s ‘Do Not Track’ privacy effort at crossroads

Updated 21 November 2012

Microsoft’s ‘Do Not Track’ privacy effort at crossroads

WASHINGTON: A movement by privacy activists to curb tracking of Internet users’ browsing habits scored a major victory last month when Microsoft launched its new browser with “do not track” as the default, or automatic setting.
But some advertisers are in revolt against the move, certain websites are skirting the Microsoft effort and the debate over online privacy and tracking is heating up.
The controversy stems from practices used by websites and marketing partners to track browsing activity to be able to deliver ads targeted to individuals.
The ad industry argues that tracking is done anonymously without violating privacy, but some say it is easy to connect the person’s anonymous IP address or mobile device to a real person.
“It is trivial to make those connections,” says Jim Brock, a former Yahoo executive who now heads a venture called PrivacyFix which offers browser plug-ins for privacy and other services to consumers and businesses.
Websites and mobile device use a variety of software to determine a user’s browsing habits. Marketers can then use that data for “behavioral ads” designed with people’s habits in mind.
In some cases, these electronic tags can predict if a consumer is price-sensitive, allowing sellers to charge more or less for a product or service.
Most Web browsers allow users to activate a “do not track” privacy feature, and Microsoft designed its Internet Explorer 10 with the feature as the default setting.
“We believe consumers should have more control over how data about their online behavior is tracked, shared, and used,” Microsoft chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch said in announcing the move.
Advertisers see the issue differently, arguing that Microsoft should not make the decision for consumers.
The Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of the largest US media and marketing associations, told its members they can ignore or override the default settings in Microsoft or other browsers.
“The trade associations that lead the DAA do not believe that Microsoft’s IE10 browser settings are an appropriate standard for providing consumer choice,” said the alliance, which includes the Better Business Bureau.
“Machine-driven do not track does not represent user choice; it represents browser-manufacturer choice.”
Yahoo has also broken ranks with Microsoft, saying it “will not recognize” the “do not track” settings by default.
A Yahoo blog post said Microsoft acted “unilaterally” and that “this degrades the experience for the majority of users and makes it hard to deliver on our value proposition to them.”
Representatives Edward Markey and Joe Barton, who head the House privacy caucus, expressed disappointment over the actions by advertisers and Yahoo, saying they highlight the need for better privacy laws.
“If consumers want to be tracked online, they should have to opt-in, not the other way around,” the two lawmakers said in a statement.
Some analysts argue that wiping out all online tracking would undermine the economic model of the Internet.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank, recently modified its website to warn visitors with “do not track” enabled with a pop-up message which asks them to enable tracking.


Pentagon awards United Launch Alliance, SpaceX launch contracts

Updated 09 August 2020

Pentagon awards United Launch Alliance, SpaceX launch contracts

  • The two companies lay claim to billions of dollars in lucrative military contracts for a span of five years

WASHINGTON: The US Air Force said it awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Elon Musk’s SpaceX $653 million in combined military launch contracts under the Pentagon’s next-generation, multibillion-dollar launch capability program.

The contracts are for launch service orders beginning in 2022 and allocate $337 million to ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp., and $316 million to SpaceX for the first missions of roughly 34 total that the two rocket firms will support through 2027.

ULA will receive a contract for approximately 60 percent of those launch service orders using its next-generation Vulcan rocket, while Musk’s SpaceX, using its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, will receive approximately 40 percent, the Air Force’s acquisition chief Will Roper told reporters on Friday.

The awards are part of the Pentagon’s 2014 mandate from Congress to curb its dependency on rockets using Russia’s RD-180 engine and transition to US-made rockets for launching Washington’s most sensitive national security payloads to space.

The program, called National Security Space Launch Phase 2, is aimed at “building a competitive industry base that we hope doesn’t just help military and national security missions, but that helps our nation continue to compete and dominate in space,” Roper added.

“Today’s awards mark a new epoch of space launch thatwill finally transition the Department off Russian RD-180 engines,” Roper said in a statement.

The two companies lay claim to billions of dollars in lucrative military contracts for a span of five years that competitors Blue Origin, the space company of Amazon.com Inc. owner Jeff Bezos, and Northrop Grumman also competed for.

Blue Origin Chief Executive Bob Smith said in a statement he was “disappointed” in the Pentagon’s decision, adding that the company will continue to develop its heavy-lift New Glenn rocket “to fulfill our current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts.”