The head of the Senate Commerce Committee is urging the Federal Trade Commission to continue working with the Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium,
which is currently trying to develop guidelines to implement do-not-track headers.
"It is entirely appropriate that the FTC is participating in the W3C process to provide technical expertise or otherwise facilitate the promulgation of voluntary standards," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) wrote on Wednesday to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
The lawmaker also criticized the ad industry's current self-regulatory system, which he characterized as a failure. Specifically, Rockefeller took issue with industry principles that allow ad networks to collect data about consumers even after they have opted out of online behavioral advertising. "This arrangement creates a nonsensical situation: an intrusion on consumer privacy without any of the benefits of targeted advertising," Rockefeller wrote.
"If the advertising industry cannot be coaxed into living up to its commitment and adopting robust voluntary [do not track] standards, I believe it will only highlight the need for Congress to act," he wrote.
The W3C's tracking protection group is meeting this week in Amsterdam in hopes of coming up with standards to implement browser-based do-not-track headers. The major browser manufacturers have promised to offer do-not-track headers that, when activated, send a signal that users don't want to be tracked as they surf the Web. But the signals don't actually block tracking. Instead, it's up to ad networks and publishers to react to the signals.
Rockefeller's letter came shortly after a coalition of nine House Republicans expressed concern about the FTC's support for the W3C's efforts to create a do-not-track standard. The GOP lawmakers asked the FTC whether it was empowered to work with an "international organization" like the W3C.
The W3C's tracking protection group includes members of the self-regulatory organization Digital Advertising Alliance, Network Advertising Alliance, Association of National Advertisers and American Association of Advertising Agencies. The group also includes representatives from numerous U.S. corporations, including Adobe, Apple, Blue Cava, Comcast, eBay, Google and Microsoft.