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Advertisers Tell FTC They Still Support ‘Do Not Track’

10 Oct, 2012 By: Doug McPherson

NEW YORK – Advertising industry leaders continue to reject charges that they no longer back a uniform browser feature that would give consumers the choice to opt-out of ad tracking on the Internet.

It’s a response to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Jon Leibowitz and his quote in The Wall Street Journal last week where he said the advertising industry “appears to be backing off from its commitments” and that it’s exploiting a loophole in the definition of do-not-track to allow tracking for market research and product development.

Not true says Stuart P. Ingis, a partner with Venable LLP and counsel for the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). In Adweek, he called Leibowitz’s charge “utter nonsense.” In a press conference, Ingis’ added, “We agreed then to a browser-based consumer choice mechanism. Nothing has changed.”

He added that the DAA is working to add browser-based header signals to the set of tools consumers can use to express their preferences under the DAA Principles. The DAA expects the tools will be functional within nine months.

Ingis continued, “The DAA standard and corresponding enforcement of the standard will be applied where a consumer: (1) has been provided language that describes to consumers the effect of exercising such choice including that some data may still be collected; and (2) has affirmatively chosen to exercise a uniform choice with the browser-based tool. The DAA standard will not apply in instances where (1) and (2) do not occur or where any entity or software or technology provider other than the user exercises such a choice.”

Despite the specificity of Ingis’ statement, consensus appears almost nonexistent. A big sticking point is whether do-not-track should mean do-not-collect, or just do-not-target.

Many agree the ad industry shouldn’t serve ads that are selected based on the other Web sites users have visited to people who turn on do-not-track. But on data collection, the ad industry says it needs to gather certain information – such as data used for market research – even if people don’t want to be “tracked.” Privacy advocates say that people who don’t want to be tracked don’t want any information collected, and that the ad industry should respect that decision.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which sets technical standards for the Internet, has been working to develop standards for do-not-track headers, but after spending months debating the issues, and failing to forge a consensus, the group’s leaders have said consensus is no longer the goal; the new goal, instead, is to arrive at a conclusion that raises the least number of objections. The W3C has no power to enforce its recommendations.

In a letter to W3C, DAA called that new goal “not an appropriate process or means for moving forward on decisions that could affect the future of an entire online ecosystem.”

The DAA adds that a “non-consensus decision” by “an organization of unelected individuals who do not represent the interests of all stakeholders, should not be substituted for the consensus judgment of the participants given the impact such a decision could have on consumers, commerce, national and global economies, jobs and the overall health of the Internet ecosystem.”

Leibowitz, who has been leading the crusade for a do-not-track option in Web browsers, said he still hopes that an agreement can emerge.

Microsoft decided to roll out a do-not-track browser feature that would be “on” by default, directly contradicting the rest of the industry. “We articulated, and the FTC chairman has also articulated, that the default has to be off in order to provide a clear explanation for the consumer and choice,” Ingis said. “Microsoft abused the process.”

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