Digital Ad Alliance No Longer Aligned, Pulls Out Of Web Privacy Initiative

Calling it a failure, the Digital Advertising Alliance Wednesday said it will no longer participate in a privacy initiative spearheaded by the Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

"Rather than continue to work in a forum that has failed, we intend to commit our resources and time in participating in efforts that can achieve results while enhancing the consumer digital experience,” DAA Managing Director Lou Mastria said in a message posted to the W3C's Tracking Protection Working Group's email list.

The W3C formed the tracking protection group two years ago, in hopes of forging a consensus about how to respond to browser-based do-not-track headers. Every major browser now offers those headers, which were designed to enable consumers to opt out of all online behavioral advertising. But the headers don't actually prevent anyone from tracking users. Instead, the headers send a signal to publishers and ad networks -- which are free to honor them or not.

But the consumer advocates, computer scientists, tech companies and ad industry representatives who participated in the initiative were unable to agree on basic principles -- including what type of data could be collected from people who turned on a do-not-track signal.

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, a consortium of ad trade associations, and other interested parties 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.

The industry groups said consumers who want to opt out of behavioral advertising could do so via the AdChoices icon, which takes people to a page where they can click on an opt-out link.

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

The DAA's Mastria referred to that decision in his message to the DAA, writing that the W3C's leadership showed a “flagrant disregard for procedure.”

Mastria said the DAA intends to go its own way, and will launch a new initiative to determine how to interpret do-not-track headers.

“The DAA will immediately convene a process to evaluate how browser-based signals can be used to meaningfully address consumer privacy,” he wrote. “This DAA-led process will be a more practical use of our resources than to continue to participate at the W3C."

The DAA isn't the only one to depart the W3C's tracking protection effort. Co-chair Peter Swire -- an experienced negotiator who was brought in last November in hopes of forging an agreement -- recently resigned in order to participate in a task force examining data collection by the National Security Agency. Privacy advocate Jonathan Mayer also publicly left the group this summer.

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2 comments about "Digital Ad Alliance No Longer Aligned, Pulls Out Of Web Privacy Initiative".
  1. Geoffrey Katz from Conversant, Inc. , September 17, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.
    Even if the W3C and DAA had resolved all the cricital open issues, DNT is still fatally flawed because the web user has no way to know if vendors are honoring it. At least with opt-out cookies, users can verify they're not being tracked by seeing that the vendor has not stored a unique identifier in their browser.
  2. Domenico Tassone from Viewthrough Measurement Consortium , October 9, 2013 at 9 p.m.
    Good point Geoff. Maybe DNT would have to require confirmation during handshake. However, what is the point if you can delete or opt-out of cookies to begin with?