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W3C Do-Not-Track Now a Dead End: DMA Official

7/16/13

By Ken Magill

By rejecting a draft proposal by online advertising interests, the Worldwide Web Consortium has made its work on a Do-Not-Track standard purely an academic exercise with no chance of adoption, according to Rachel Nyswander Thomas, vice president, government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association.

“We gave them a clear path forward and it was rejected. I don’t see another path forward,” said Thomas.

The leaders of the W3C’s Tracking Protection Working Group announced Monday night they had rejected the Digital Advertising Alliance’s draft proposal for a universal do-not-track standard.

Instead, they said, they will work from an earlier, stricter proposal referred to as the June draft.

“[T]he current DAA Proposal is less protective of privacy and user choice than their earlier initiatives,” the group said in a statement explaining its decision.

As a result, the whole process is a non-starter with advertisers, according to Thomas.

“They decided that this will be an academic exercise,” said Thomas. “That’s what this will become if you decide to reject a proposal that all of industry had gotten together and said: ‘Not only is this a significant advancement in consumer protection, but we can pretty much guarantee that it will be adopted widely throughout the industry.’”

Consumer protection and industry adoption “were the two goals of the W3C process in the first place,” said Thomas. “By rejecting those two, they’ve basically guaranteed that the W3C is nothing more than an academic exercise in looking at these advertising issues.”

Thomas also took issue with calling the rejected proposal a DAA proposal.

“It was not just a DAA proposal. It was much broader than that,” she said.

According to Thomas, the DAA proposal [for lack of a better way to refer to it] had offered to respond to do-not-track requests by de-indentifying data so it could not be tracked back to individual browsing behavior while retaining information in aggregate to allow for the serving of ads in broad categories.

“That [proposal] would have allowed the ad-supported Internet to move forward and innovate while also making sure we didn’t have individual records on who had been to what websites,” said Thomas. “We gave them [the W3C] a path forward and they rejected it.”

However, according to people siding with the rejection decision, do-not-track means don’t collect data, period.

“We think Do Not Track should mean ‘You can’t collect information on users and you can’t retain information,’ ” said Dan Auerbach, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, according to the New York Times.

According to Thomas, the DAA will continue with its Ad Choices program, an initiative that explains behaviorally targeted ads to consumers and allows them to opt out of receiving them.

“DAA is still the only program out there that is actually providing consumers meaningful choices across the Internet,” said Thomas.

She said about 20 million consumers have interacted with the program so far. “Only about 1 million of them, after learning about how the technology works and what the lack of risks are, have exercised any kind of choice,” she said.

She also noted that online behaviorally targeted advertising poses no threat to consumers.

“The worst thing that can happen to you is you either get an ad that’s relevant to you or you don’t,” she said.

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