Pinterest announced today that it will add support for Do Not Track, the web browser mechanism that allows users to opt-out of having their personal data and activity collected by websites and third parties. It’s not the first social media company to make this move — Twitter, for example, announced last year that it would also support the Do Not Track technology.
Do Not Track, for those unfamiliar, is similar in spirit to the Do Not Call registry, in that it allows consumers to state their preferences — in this case, that they do not want to have their website browsing activity tracked or personal data collected. The technology blocks cookies that collect that personal information, and specifically, the cookies left on users’ computers and devices by third parties for the purposes of advertising. However, Do Not Track to work requires cooperation between browser makers, website publishers, and developers to implement.
While the major browser makers have gotten on board, there are still only a small number of websites that support Do Not Track. And until today, Twitter was the only other social network to have made that commitment.
Explains Pinterest in a statement, “consensus around the technical specs for Do Not Track remain elusive. However, we believe people are making a choice when they turn on Do Not Track. Today, we’re committing to respecting that choice.”
Pinterest users will now be able to turn the feature on or off from their account Settings page at any time, the company says.
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Senior Staff Technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), says that Pinterest and Twitter are both supporting Do Not Track in similar ways: by either a browser signal or a preference set by the site itself. His organization is focused on improving consumer choice and privacy options, and hopes that Pinterest’s move will lead to more companies doing the same.
Why Support “Do Not Track” Now? Because Pinterest Is Getting More Personalized
Pinterest’s announcement about its support for Do Not Track comes at a time when the service is interested in better analyzing user activity in order to introduce more personalized features. For example, the company announced today that it’s also adding a new “Edit Your Home Feed” button on web and mobile that will make it easier to follow or unfollow boards. When you go in to edit your feed, you’ll be shown personalized pin and board suggestions based on things you’ve already been pinning on the service.
So, for example, if you pin a lot of vegetarian recipes, the company explains to us, you’ll then be shown other popular boards that have similar content. In addition, the company will also soon introduce recommendations for boards based on the sites you visit with the “Pin It” button — something that’s similar to what other companies, including Twitter, do to personalize their own experiences.
By adding support for Do Not Track just as the company begins to dig further into user data, Pinterest is at least giving its users a choice in whether or not their data is collected, and it’s one of only a few sites to really do so.
However, Do Not Track is a technology and proposal that’s currently being debated by the industry, with those companies dependent on ad revenue, like Yahoo, TechCrunch parent AOL, and others, fighting with browser makers on how the push toward a Do Not Track standard should proceed. As the CDT explains it, a lot of the debate centers around whether DNT should mean “do not collect” data, “do not target” users, or whether it should mean “practice good data hygiene.” (In Pinterest’s case, it’s the former, which is what DNT means today).
The interesting thing about Pinterest’s implementation of DNT is that it will eventually change what the end-user experience is for those who do or do not enable the setting. For those who permit Pinterest to personalize the site, they’ll have an improved way to discover new content, pinners, pins, and boards they may like. But for those who opt out of tracking, personalized boards will not be shown, which means those users’ Pinterest experiences will remain basically unchanged.
Given that Pinterest’s discovery mechanisms today include a basic category list, search box, and “find friends” functionality, regular users have likely been looking forward to the introduction of new features that would allow them to better explore more of Pinterest.
But now, those users will have to make a choice about whether or not their privacy — or their personalizations — are the most important thing to them.