Web Standards Group Plans To Continue Do-Not-Track Effort

The Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium said on Tuesday that it intends to move forward with an online privacy initiative, despite the high-profile departure of the Digital Advertising Alliance.

W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe said in a blog post that the organization's Tracking Protection Working Group will work “with renewed momentum” to draft a privacy proposal. Jaffe added that the W3C will soon announce a replacement for former co-chair Peter Swire, who left the do-not-track working group earlier this month. A spokesperson for the W3C said that the new co-chair could be named as early as this week.

But others, including Swire, expressed doubt that the W3C would be able to ever forge an agreement about privacy. “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,” he wrote in an email to the group. “I no longer see any workable path to a standard that will gain active support from both wings of the Working Group.”

Privacy advocates, industry representatives and computer scientists on the W3C's do-not-track group have spent the last two years unsuccessfully trying to forge a consensus about how to respond to browser-based do-not-track headers -- designed by browser manufacturers to enable consumers to opt out of all online behavioral advertising. Those 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.

DAA Managing Director Lou Mastria said early Tuesday morning that the umbrella trade group was pulling out of the W3C's working group -- which he called “a forum that has failed” -- and will instead launch its own initiative aimed at determining how to interpret do-not-track headers.

At the same time, three ad organizations that belong to the DAA -- the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Direct Marketing Association and Network Advertising Initiative -- said on Tuesday that they intend to continue participating in the W3C's do-not-track effort.

IAB general counsel Mike Zaneis said that his organization will remain, if only to ensure that advertisers still have a voice in the discussions. “If there were only two stakeholders sitting at the table, those two stakeholders would write the standard,” he told Online Media Daily. “We can't allow that to happen.”

NAI executive director Marc Groman expressed a similar sentiment. “Should the NAI withdraw today, the Working Group will be comprised of consumer advocates, U.S and European regulators, and a dozen large, global corporations that sit in a different place in the online advertising ecosystem,” he said in an emailed statement. “Given this reality, NAI will continue to participate in W3C as well as coordinate closely with DAA, IAB, and our other sister associations on do not track and self-regulatory initiatives.”

The DAA's move spurred the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog to renew calls for new legislation. “I don’t see how it is possible to reach consensus in this sort of multi-stakeholder process,” John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director, said in a statement. “We’re going to need legislation.”

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