Internet security is a big-deal these days, and if you're serious about protecting your data, you may well be using the Do Not Track tool in your browser. However, according to a recent article by Gizmodo (opens in new tab), the extra layer of security used by a quarter of Americans (and millions worldwide) while browsing the Internet does nothing to protect you at all.
Created around ten years ago, Do Not Track (DNT) is supposed to function like a 'no call list' for the Internet, sending a message to the website you're using that you don't want to be tracked. In theory, if you switch the tool on, websites will not sell your data to third parties or use your browsing behavior to advertise to you.
The problem is that most websites don't respect DNT requests from your browser, with only a few paying attention to your settings; Pinterest and Medium are reportedly the most prominent sites that will honor your wishes.
Why don't website respect Do Not Track?
Most of the world's largest websites including Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and Facebook completely ignore the request from your browser if you have DNT switched on while using the Internet.
One reason for this is that governments have so far refused to adopt any legislation to ensure websites that ignore DNT requests are penalized - in contrast, if a company contacts you when you are on a no-call list, it can face fines in excess of $15,000 in the US.
Furthermore, if websites did respect DNT requests, they could stand to miss out on a lot of money from selling your data and advertising to you. Therefore, there's really no incentive for these websites to stop tracking you while you're using them.
What can I do to protect myself?
If you've been using the DNT tool, fear not - there are a few other ways you can protect your data while browsing the Internet, for example by ad-blocking and cookie-blocking.
You can also install a VPN, which has the added benefit of getting around pesky geo-blocking (great news if your favorite show is only available to stream in certain countries).
Whatever you do, don't rely on DNT - it just doesn't work.