Apple’s timing of the addition of a Do Not Track mechanism to Safari may be more than a good-will gesture, it may be a power play designed to compel Google, the last search engine without a Do Not Track mechanism as a standard element, further than even the Federal Trade Commission has recommended.
Google’s proposed settlement with the FTC on privacy standards would cause the company to maintain a slew of privacy initiatives, including opt-out options and independent audits for the next 20 years.
Apple’s Do Not Track option will only be released to the public later this summer; at present it is in a developers-only test version. Google’s settlement with the FTC is currently under public review and will also be finalized this summer. Once that settlement is concluded, Google will be legally bound by its consumer privacy offerings and subjected to independent audits to certify its data management standards adherence.
In order to introduce an opt-out option now in response to Apple’s move, Google would have to offer consumers a Do Not Track mechanism which would have to be maintained for the next 20 years as company standard. Any subsequent comparisons that might be made with Apple’s current options might be included in assessments by independent auditors of Google’s adherence to the agreement.
The parameters of Apple’s Do Not Track details are still in development, so whatever Google ends up with as a privacy standard, Apple is free to best Google’s options in stringency or leave itself bit more freedom in allowable tracking activities based on what Google settles on with the FTC. Apple’s opt-out options may be offered in tiers of permissions or formulated around different requirements for various devices- all under a voluntary framework that doesn’t include an independent auditor critiquing policy applications.
That means Safari could offer consumers an opt-out option that covers their favorite devices and offers stronger perceived tracking “protection’ than Google, which is reportedly in development of a Chrome-driven tablet device.
Apple’s motivation may also be centered around a recent successful consumer lawsuit over alleged unique device identifier (UDID) privacy breaches which ended in settlements for the multiple plaintiffs. This set a precedent for future lawsuits based on Safari-driven data exchanges not formerly covered by privacy protocols and lends to Apple’s vulnerability on privacy issues for its devices.
Although Google’s FTC settlement might look like a handclap, it is really a handshake between the FTC and the company, allowing Google to maintain its advantage while shoring up its privacy status.