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DAA Leaves W3C; Do-Not-Track on Life Support

25 Sep, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

NEW YORK – The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group, the cluster of privacy advocates, ad industry reps and lawyers who’ve tried to create standards for a browser-based do-not-track tool, may be history.

The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) has announced it’s leaving the group. “If you measure it by progress, it’s dead,” said Lou Mastria, managing director of the DAA. “It has achieved nothing for privacy in two years.”

Co-chair Peter Swire left the group less than a month ago, along with Stanford privacy activist Jonathan Mayer, who said the project was too stalled to be productive.

And tensions are running high. AdAge reported a heated exchange between privacy advocates and ad industry reps during a panel last week at a workshop before the Privacy Identity Innovation conference in Seattle.

Chris Mejia, director of digital supply chain solutions and ad technology for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), suggested the W3C is not the best “sausage factory,” and it couldn’t even define what tracking was. In part, contention lies in whether the group only should be determining technical specs for a DNT standard, or whether it also should be dealing with policy issues.

Aleecia McDonald, director of privacy at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, argued there was still hope for progress.

“I don’t see any of the hallmarks of progress,” Mastria said. “I see frustration. I see misunderstandings.”

In his letter to Jeff Jaffe, CEO of W3C, Mastria wrote: “Going forward, the DAA intends to focus its time and efforts on growing this already-successful consumer choice program in desktop, mobile and in-app environments.”

Mastria implied during a phone interview with AdAge that DAA may begin work on its own browser-based DNT technology. “We’ll just start the process of investigating how we’ll move forward,” he said.

Right now, the industry’s self-regulatory AdChoices program that DAA oversees, notifies people of online ad targeting via a tiny blue icon in ads; people can click the icon to opt-out from ad targeting and some data collection. DAA reports 2.5 million people have opted out via the program.

The leadership of the tracking protection group rejected that proposal, saying it conflicted with the “chartered aims and the weight of group consensus.”

Another do-not-track alternative is the Cookie Clearinghouse that Firefox browser maker Mozilla, along with the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, have spearheaded. It will publish lists of domains deemed acceptable for tracking by browsers, and lists of domains that should be blocked from tracking. The project is still in the early stages and participants are determining criteria for the lists.

This summer, major ad industry groups proposed that the W3C abandon the idea that a do-not-track signal should relate to behavioral advertising – or delivering ads based on users’ Web-surfing history. The DAA floated an alternative proposal that companies should only take steps to “de-identify” some data when a consumer had turned on do-not-track, but continue to serve behavioral ads to those consumers.

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