Earlier today, Pinterest received national attention by announcing its new board suggestion program, which suggests Pinterest boards for users to follow based on websites they’ve visited outside of Pinterest. In rolling out this program, Pinterest took several important steps to respect the privacy of users:

  1. Pinterest has committed to respecting Do Not Track. This means that when users enable Do Not Track in their browsers (see step-by-step instructions here), Pinterest will “zero out” any Pinterest tracking cookies the user may have. This means it won’t be able to create a unique dossier of your online web activities in order to suggest boards for you to follow.
  2. Pinterest offers account setting options to limit board suggestions.  Users of Pinterest can also ensure that their web browsing activity isn’t associated with their accounts by using privacy settings within Pinterest. To adjust your settings: click your user name in the top right and then click "Settings." Go to the setting called "Personalization" and toggle the button to "No." (Note: this feature is currently rolling out and is not yet available in all Pinterest accounts. If it's not available for you, check back in a few hours.)
  3. Pinterest allows non-users to opt out through the help center.  If you are not a user of Pinterest, aren’t interested in using Do Not Track, but would still like to get avoid Pinterest collecting information about your browsing history, you can do so by visiting the help center. From here, you can uncheck the box next to “Allow Pinterest to personalize my experience using sites I visit.” This sets a cookie that will essentially function the way Do Not Track functions, ensuring your browsing data is not collected by Pinterest. Note: this cookie will be removed if you delete your cookies, so we don’t recommend this option.

Of these options, we strongly recommend Do Not Track. It’s a simple mechanism that will help protect your browsing privacy from a range of websites, including Pinterest. And it won’t be removed just because you clear your cookies. See our guide to turning on Do Not Track.

How Pinterest Board Suggestion Works – And What Opting Out Means

Pinterest receives data about sites you visit around the web that have chosen to embed the Pin It button. Visiting these sites—even if a user has never visited Pinterest before – results in the user receiving a unique tracking cookie. This cookie then communicates to Pinterest every time the user visits another website with the Pin It button, though it is not tied to your name or email address or other similar identifiers.

Unless you opt out, the data collected by Pinterest will paint an astonishingly intimate portrait of one’s online browsing activity.  And when a user is logged in and has a Pinterest account, this browsing activity is associated with her account. Pinterest keeps this browsing data for 30 days. (See Pinterest Help Center or updated privacy policy.)

Similar to the program announced last year by Twitter, Pinterest’s new board suggestion program will use information it collects about your web browsing history through its unique tracking cookies in order to suggest boards it thinks you will find interesting.  Here’s how Ka Chen, a software engineer for Pinterest, describes it on the Pinterest blog:

If you’re interested, we’ll also suggest personalized pins and boards based on websites you go to that have the Pin It button. So if you’re planning a party and have gone to lots of party sites recently, we’ll try to suggest boards to make your event a hit.

However, whenever it receives the Do Not Track signal (DNT:1), Pinterest will “zero” its tracking cookies – removing the identifiers so they can no longer be associated with the websites you have visited in the past. While simple for a company to do, zeroing a tracking cookie is a powerful mechanism for protecting users’ web privacy.  It means that a company can’t use their tracking cookies to create a detailed portrait of your online activities.

Do Not Track is a browser setting, but what about people who turn to the privacy settings within Pinterest to protect themselves? Pinterest seems to recognize that many users may turn to their account settings to limit data flow.  Fittingly, Pinterest has created a mechanism to indicate they do not want to receive board suggestions. Choosing this setting will also have the effect of zeroing the tracking cookie. 

We’re pleased with the steps Pinterest is taking to respect the privacy rights of individual Internet users. Notably, Twitter took a similar step last year and also publicly declared support for the Do Not Track signal. We’re impressed by these major companies establishing policies to meaningfully respect the privacy choices of their users, and glad to see they are getting the public attention they deserve. Hopefully, the decisions of Twitter and Pinterest are the vanguard of a new industry standard around respecting Do Not Track and soon this will be the default of all major websites.