Data Deception: Do Not Track Does Not Work

There he goes again. CEO of Digital Content Next Jason Kint’s latest statements in support of Do-Not-Track (DNT) deftly gloss over concerns about anti-competitiveness and consumer privacy by asking all players in the industry to just get along in the name of restoring consumer trust.

We’ve stated our opinion on the current DNT proposal publicly, both in the media and through public commentary submitted to the W3C. Similar concerns were raised by many in the industry, including Pubmatic and Rubicon. I recognize that as a representative of Turn, a company that relies on the use of anonymous, non-personally identifiable information for digital marketing, my comments could also be brushed aside as self-serving. But we are not the only ones raising warning flags.



Tech industry groups such as the Network Advertising Initiative, the Digital Advertising Alliance and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have issued comments outlining their objections to the proposal. The Alliance went so far so to remove itself from the W3C process. Further, authoritative voices such as the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) and GroupM, the largest advertising media company in the world, have also issued strong criticisms of DNT.

Even Chris Mejia, an invited expert to the W3C’s own Tracking Protection Working Group, offered serious criticisms, concluding that the current proposed standard “does not help to advance user privacy controls.”

Many issues have been raised, ranging from the technical execution, such as the ability to verify if a signal was generated by an actual consumer, to the appropriateness of the process by which this proposal has been developed. But here we’ll focus on two of the main concerns: the current proposal will suppress competition and will confuse and even mislead consumers.


Kint claims that DNT “is not a small versus large company issue.” While I agree that consumer privacy overall is an industry issue that affects companies of all sizes, the current proposal would skew industry economics in favor of large media companies – like the ones Kint represents on behalf of Digital Content Next (formerly the Online Publishers Association [OPA]) – suppressing competition.

But don’t take my word for it: Peter Kosmala, the 4As’ senior vice president, government relations, notes: “This places many small and mid-sized companies – which are such a vital part of the growth and vitality of the Internet – in a disenfranchised position.  … the inevitable result will be more consolidation among dominant players, higher prices for products and services and less variety and choices for consumers.”

Rachel Glasser, GroupM: “This will allow larger Internet companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo, with substantial media properties, to have disproportionate control over data collected, tipping the competitive advantage in their own favor. Ultimately, this will result in rising prices for advertisers, limiting revenue for publishers, and a decrease in unique content available to users. … The end result is that small businesses will not be able to continue to market efficiently.”

Anti-consumer privacy

The DNT proposal as it stands today carves out exceptions for the very companies that have the most access to personally identifiable consumer data – companies with first-party relationships with consumers, such as Google, Facebook and DCN members that Kint is paid to represent. Companies that deal with anonymous consumer data will, on the other hand, have to comply.

As Glasser points out, “The only companies that would have to honor DNT are those which do not currently have any information about you in the first place.” Or phrased in reverse by Tim Stoute of eyeReturn Marketing, “Ironically, the companies with the most personal information are exempt from the standard.”

Kint accuses those that object to DNT of “attempting to divide the industry,” but it is the proposal itself that would do the dividing by delineating certain segments of the industry to which the standard would apply, and certain segments to which it would not apply.

Glasser captured the essential problem with DNT in one sentence: “In the end, the user’s data is still collected. It is just a difference of by whom.”

I agree with Kint when he says that the advertising industry has a trust issue with consumers, and that we need a self-regulatory system that consumers feel is “transparent, honest and effective and is for their benefit.” (It is our belief that such a system already exists in the opt-out tools of the NAI and DAA.) 

In Kint’s own words, “consumers should be equipped with a simple, effective way to choose who collects data from them.” We couldn’t agree more; but that is not what Do Not Track provides. When it comes to an issue as important as consumer trust, the specifics matter. Unfortunately, the current DNT proposal would allow the most dominant players to continue collecting consumers’ most sensitive information even after setting the DNT flag.

Our question for Kint: Would he support a Do Not Track regulation that applies equally to all first and third parties? If the goal is to give consumers control, the organizations Kint represents should be included. It is unfair and deceptive to do otherwise.
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