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Ad Industry, W3C Still Sparring Over Do-Not-Track

24 Jul, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) rejected the ad industry's proposal last week that it should be able to continue using behavioral targeting techniques to serve ads to people who have the do-not-track function on their Web browsers turned on.

W3C co-chairs Peter Swire and Matthias Schunter said the ad industry's proposal wasn’t consistent with the W3C's tracking protection group's mission, which is working to create a way to use a do-not-track header to block or allow ad targeting and data collection.

W3C’s Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG) – a group of companies, trade associations and consumer activists trying to create a technical standard that would enable browser-based do-not-track headers – wrote, “The group has rejected that change proposal, finding it at odds with our chartered aims and the weight of group consensus. We conclude, based on the comments submitted, that the June Draft provides a better basis from which to address the criteria for a W3C standard, as understood in the Working Group, than does the DAA (Digital Advertising Alliance) Proposal. Commenters have emphasized that there would be widespread confusion if consumers select a Do Not Track option, only to have targeting and collection continue unchanged.”

Rachel Thomas, vice president of governmental affairs at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), says that three weeks ago, the companies and associations at the TPWG table introduced a proposal supported by “a broad swath of industry” that would create a path forward on the do-not-track issue.

“The proposal reflected the marketing and advertising community’s commitment to developing a working do-not-track model that was laid out by the DMA, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) and others at the White House in January 2012,” Thomas says. “We introduced this proposal with confidence that it could be widely adopted by industry if accepted by the W3C.”

W3C now intends to build on an “editors” proposal that assumes ad networks should stop serving targeted ads to people who turn on do-not-track.

Thomas Roessler, a W3C staffer, says in its upcoming meeting, “The TPWG will continue to work through other change proposals, without revisiting the elements addressed in this call for objections. The group will continue to base its work on the June Draft.”

But Thomas says, as written, this draft, “would create a do-not-track signal that does not and cannot reflect the real choices of Internet users.”

Ad associations have indicated their members might not agree to any upcoming recommendations. Thomas told MediaPost it's not likely the industry would accept W3C's standards. “It looks to me like the W3C has devolved into an academic exercise on this issue,” Thomas said.

Stu Ingis, counsel to the DAA, has said he isn’t optimistic the group will follow the standard either.

“But all is not lost.  There is a silver lining here – for marketers and consumers alike,” Thomas said. “DMA and the other DAA associations remain committed to any consensus process that seeks to keep control in the hands of Internet users. We’re going to keep up the good work being done through the DAA to provide consumers with meaningful choices across the Internet. Regardless of what happens next at the W3C, we will continue to innovate and advance our consumer choice tools at pace with the evolution of marketing technologies.”

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