Advertiser Group: Do Not Track Web Privacy Effort Is Dead

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Raising a big stink, the Digital Advertising Alliance withdraws from work to standardize how browsers tell Web sites not to track users' behavior. The DAA says it's doomed, but other ad groups remain involved.

Thwarted by irreconcilable differences, the Digital Advertising Alliance has withdrawn from an effort to standardize how browsers could tell Web sites that users don't want their behavior tracked.

The World Wide Web Consortium's Do Not Track effort included browser makers, privacy advocates, and advertisers, but the conflicting agendas hobbled an already contentious effort. Most recently, the working group trying to hammer out the standard rejected a July proposal from the DAA.

"After more than two years of good-faith effort and having contributed significant resources, the DAA no longer believes that the TPWG is capable of fostering the development of a workable 'do not track' (DNT) solution," DAA managing director Lou Mastria said in a Tuesday letter to W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe. "The DAA recommends that the W3C should not attempt to resurrect a process that has clearly reached the end of its useful life."

But the W3C is moving ahead anyway. On Wednesday, it announced two new co-chairs of the working group, Justin Brookman of the Center for Democracy and Technology and Carl Cargill of Adobe Systems. They join an existing co-chair, Matthais Schunter. And in a blog post Tuesday, Jaffe said the Do Not Track effort still is alive and kicking.

"With a concrete plan and a full set of Chairs, the Working Group is set to proceed to Last Call [a stage in the standardization process] with renewed momentum," Jaffe said. "I hope that DAA continues to monitor this work. As they see progress and momentum, they should rejoin W3C's consensus process."

The DAA indirectly represents hundreds of advertisers and publishers that run run ads. But the DAA's departure doesn't mean the industry won't be represented, because some advertising groups that the DAA represents remain engaged in the Tracking Protection Working Group.

The DAA represents several advertising groups, including the Association of National Advertisers, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Network Advertising Initiative, the Direct Marketing Association, and the American Advertising Federation.

Of those, the NAI, DMA, and IAB said on the mailing list that they will remain involved in the Do Not Track effort. The IAB membership alone includes heavy hitters online including AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, as well as Apple, Hulu, Warner Bros, Disney, 24/7 Media, Dow Jones, and CBS Interactive, the publisher of CNET News.

The DNT effort has been contentious, and DAA is not alone to be frustrated. Privacy advocate and Stanford student Jonathan Mayer quit the DNT effort in July, saying that the working group had made "scant progress" and indeed that its members' views had grown further apart. "There is no light at the end of the tunnel," Mayer said.

The effort already had been struggling. A new co-chairman, Peter Swire, hoped to get Do Not Track back on the rails, but he resigned in August to take a post on the Obama administration's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology.

The DAA's Mastria pointed the finger of blame at Swire, but Swire defended himself in a response: "When participants don't get the outcome they want on substance, they often blame the procedure."

But Swire also shared the DAA's pessimism:

My own view is that the Working Group does not have a path to consensus that includes large blocs of stakeholders with views as divergent as the DAA, on the one hand, and those seeking stricter privacy rules, on the other. I devoted my time as co-chair to trying to find creative ways to achieve consumer choice and privacy while also enabling a thriving commercial Internet. I no longer see any workable path to a standard that will gain active support from both wings of the Working Group.

The DNT effort began with an Obama administration request for stakeholders in online advertising to try to hammer out an acceptable arrangement. If the W3C process fails, it's possible that legislation might make some headway.

One consumer group, Consumer Watchdog, has been pushing for a Do Not Track bill in California, but it stalled, and the group's director, John Simpson, said in a statement Tuesday he doesn't have much hope things would fare better at the national level.

"Given the current dysfunction of Congress it may be difficult to pass that into law," he said.

As a result, Consumer Watchdog is exploring the idea of a ballot measure that in California's 2014 elections that would let voters address the issue directly.

The DAA, meanwhile, said it will proceed with its own privacy-protection measures.

Updated at 10 a.m. PT with the announcement of two new co-chairs of the Tracking Protection Working Group.

Stephen Shankland writes about a wide range of technology and products, but has a particular focus on browsers and digital photography. He joined CNET News in 1998 and has also covered Google, Yahoo, servers, supercomputing, Linux, other open-source software, and science.

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