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“Do not track” and the power of the default

Behavioral economics has brought to the fore the power of the default. As big data makes it easier to understand people’s actual behaviors and guide their choices, the power of the default is beginning to be fought over. Interestingly, it’s Microsoft versus the rest.

Next came an incensed open letter from the board of the Association of National Advertisers to Steve Ballmer, the C.E.O. of Microsoft, and two other company officials. Microsoft had committed a grievous infraction, wrote executives from Dell, I.B.M., Intel, Visa, Verizon, Wal-Mart and other major corporations, by making Do Not Track the default option in the company’s forthcoming Internet Explorer 10 browser. If consumers chose to stay with that option, the letter warned, they could prevent companies from collecting data on up to 43 percent of browsers used by Americans.

“Microsoft’s action is wrong. The entire media ecosystem has condemned this action,” the letter said. “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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