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Do Not Track Group Appoints New Chairs; Advertising Alliance Withdraws From Effort

Monday, September 23, 2013

By Katie W. Johnson  

Sept. 19 --The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) group that is working on developing a Do Not Track (DNT) Web browser privacy standard is moving forward despite the departure of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA).

The W3C said in a Sept. 18 statement that it had appointed two new co-chairs to the Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG): Justin Brookman, director for the Project on Consumer Privacy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, and Carl Cargill, standards principal at Adobe Systems Inc.

DAA Managing Director Lou Mastria said in a Sept. 17 letter to W3C Chief Executive Officer Jeff Jaffe that the DAA had decided to withdraw from future participation in the Working Group. “After more than two years of good-faith effort and having contributed significant resources, the DAA no longer believes that the TPWG is capable of fostering the development of a workable 'do not track' ('dnt') solution,” Mastria said.

Three Co-Chairs

The new co-chairs told Bloomberg BNA that the Working Group faces some important challenges. “Keeping people talking and moving forward on defining a standard that is acceptable to the stakeholder groups is the goal,” Cargill told Bloomberg BNA in a Sept. 19 statement.

“It's key to remember that a standard is not ever completed; it is constantly being revised to mirror changes that are taking place in the market,” Cargill added. “Part of the job of the Chairs is to decide when to do a 'snapshot' and freeze a specification for implementation and deployment, and what to include in the next revision depending on market and user needs.”

“The biggest problem is that there is just a fundamental disconnect between some of the stakeholders on a few key issues,” Brookman told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 19. “We're not going to have a solution that pleases everyone on every single issue.”

“If W3C decides to move forward, we're going to do so under a streamlined procedure where the Chairs aggressively push to close out remaining issues and, where necessary, determine the path forward where we can't get people to all agree,” Brookman added. “That will be difficult, but we'll try to do a good job to pick the most rational path.”

Matthias Schunter, chief technologist and principal investigator at Intel Corp., will continue in his role as the third co-chair of the Working Group, Jaffe said during a Sept. 18 Working Group teleconference.

Peter Swire, the Nancy J. and Lawrence P. Huang professor in law and ethics at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Ernest Scheller Jr. College of Business, announced Aug. 27 that he was leaving his position as co-chair of the Working Group. The same day, the White House named Swire a member of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, created in response to public outrage over controversial National Security Agency surveillance programs .


 

“The biggest problem is that there is just a fundamental disconnect between some of the stakeholders on a few key issues. We're not going to have a solution that pleases everyone on every single issue.”  
Justin Brookman, Co-Chair,
W3C Tracking Protection Working Group

In July, Jonathan Mayer, a fellow at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, resigned from the continuing effort because of the group's failure to meet the July deadline for a “last call” draft standard . “Last call” within the W3C means that the working group believes the technical requirements of the project have been met, and it is time for the public to take a look and comment.

DAA Departs

“As we depart W3C and TPWG, DAA will focus its resources on convening its own forum to evaluate how browser-based signals can be used to meaningfully address consumer privacy,” Mastria said.

He said the Working Group “has yet to reach agreement on the most elementary and material issues facing the group,” such as defining the term “tracking.”

The Working Group's “efforts were rejected out of hand by TPWG co-chair Peter Swire, who jettisoned the long-accepted W3C procedure in order to anoint his own path forward,” Mastria said. “As others in the working group have substantiated, as a result of Swire's actions there is no longer a legitimate TPWG procedure.”

In a Sept. 17 response, Swire said that the DAA “chose my actions as the most convenient excuse for leaving the process.”

“I share the frustration in the DAA message with the inability of the Working Group to achieve better results,” Swire said. “I believe a fair review of the history, however, shows that the views of the DAA and its members were valued and included in months of hard work together in the Group.”

He added that his “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.”

Effect on Path Forward

In a Sept. 19 statement, Cargill told Bloomberg BNA that “the DAA will be missed, but many of their members and sister organizations remain in the working group representing the industry's point of view.”

The DAA's “member trade associations and companies are staying, so it won't affect the day-to-day workings of the group,” Brookman told Bloomberg BNA. “I think DAA (and its members) wanted to signal frustration with the process while still staying involved on substance.”

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), which is on the DAA's board, “fully supports” the DAA's decision to withdraw from participation in the Working Group, Rachel Nyswander Thomas, executive director of the DMA's Data-Driven Marketing Institute and vice president of government affairs at the DMA, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 19. Thomas is the DMA's representative on the Working Group.

Thomas said the DMA will continue to participate in the Working Group, in part to ensure that it does not produce standards detrimental to DMA members. The DMA, however, does not see the Working Group's path forward as “anything more than an academic exercise,” she said.

But, Thomas added, “Nobody is giving up on figuring out the right solution for consumer choice.” She cited the DAA's new forum as a possible place for developing a viable DNT solution.

Updated Specifications

In addition to the appointment of the two new co-chairs, the W3C said Sept. 18 it had recently updated two draft DNT specifications, the “Tracking Preference Expression” and “Tracking Compliance and Scope” specifications.

The Tracking Preference Expression specification “defines the technical mechanisms for expressing a tracking preference” and “defines mechanisms for sites to signal whether and how they honor this preference,” the W3C said in a Sept. 13 statement. The Tracking Compliance and Scope specification “defines the meaning of a Do Not Track (DNT) preference and sets out practices for websites to comply with this preference,” the W3C said.

In addition, Schunter announced his plan for reaching “last call,” the W3C said Sept. 18. He said the W3C is “focused on the appropriate DNT solution for release in 2013-14 which we call DNT 1.0” and added that there will likely be “further releases that address scenarios that are not well addressed today.”

 

To contact the reporter on this story: Katie W. Johnson in Washington at kjohnson@bna.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Barbara Yuill at byuill@bna.com.


The minutes from the Sept. 18 W3C teleconference are available at http://www.w3.org/2013/09/18-dnt-minutes.

Swire's Aug. 27 resignation announcement is available at http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-tracking/2013Aug/0024.html.

Mastria's Sept. 17 e-mail is available at http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-tracking/2013Sep/0061.html.

Swire's Sept. 17 response is available at http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-tracking/2013Sep/0065.html.

The Sept. 12 draft “Tracking Preference Expression” specification is available at http://www.w3.org/TR/2013/WD-tracking-dnt-20130912/.

The Sept. 12 draft “Tracking Compliance and Scope” specification is available at http://www.w3.org/TR/2013/WD-tracking-compliance-20130912/.

The “Chair's Plan to Get to Last Call” is available at http://www.w3.org/2011/tracking-protection/1309-plan.html.

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