FTC's Ramirez Says W3C Efforts Are Last Hope for Do Not Track Tool

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By David McAuley with additional reporting by Katie W. Johnson

All stakeholders in the online advertising ecosystem should “dive into” the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) ongoing efforts to develop a standardized and effective do not track system, Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said April 17.

Time may be running out on the opportunity for private-sector development of an internet advertising system that meets the marketing needs of advertisers and privacy needs of consumers alike, Ramirez told a meeting of the American Advertising Federation in Washington.


“[C]onsumers still await an effective and functioning Do Not Track system, which is now long overdue.”



FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez

President Obama Feb. 28 announced the selection of Ramirez as FTC chair (12 PVLR 368, 3/4/13). She quickly underscored plans to continue with key privacy initiatives that were underway at the agency (12 PVLR 478, 3/18/13).

All in the Ad Ecosystem Should Pitch In

In her remarks April 17, Ramirez specifically urged websites that allow ad networks to track visitors to their sites, and companies that pay for targeting ads using collected behavioral data, to join with browsers, privacy groups, analytics providers, and social networks in helping in the W3C effort.

The W3C has been at this for some time, Ramirez said, and the hurdles it faces because of the differing stakeholder viewpoints are significant. But this process, she said, offers the potential for an enduring solution.

Consumer discomfort with online tracking is a persistent phenomenon, Ramirez noted. Nonetheless, a broad and effective do not track tool has yet to appear, she said. In the meantime, online tracking continues to be ever-more-widely deployed, Ramirez said.

Tracking Issue Raised Years Ago

The FTC first called for do not track capability in 2010, Ramirez said (9 PVLR 1642, 12/6/10). While that prompted a lot of individual company efforts to come up with their own website solutions to consumer tracking, “consumers still await an effective and functioning Do Not Track system, which is now long overdue,” Ramirez said.

The status quo cannot go on, she added. If consumer unease continues to fester, it will become “an invitation to Congress and other policymakers in the U.S. and abroad to intervene with legislation or regulation and for technical measures by browsers or others to limit tracking,” Ramirez concluded.

W3C Working Group Member Welcomes Remarks

Aleecia M. McDonald, director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and a longtime member of the W3C's tracking working group, welcomed Ramirez's comments. McDonald told BNA that any do not track solution must limit data collection as well as data use.

McDonald said the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), a consortium of leading advertising industry groups, has made good efforts and some progress in this area with a consumer “opt-out” approach. But that does not go far enough, she said. “Without a policy to stop data collection, DAA opt-outs do not address the goals the FTC set out for Do Not Track.”

DAA Managing Director Lou Mastria told BNA April 18 that the DAA believes it has a developed a very good program. “We've delivered and continue to deliver on a choice mechanism for interest-based advertising.”

Mastria pointed to a DAA survey report released April 18, which concluded that the majority of American internet users prefer free internet content supported by advertising.

If consumer privacy proponents get their way in pushing the W3C to embrace anything other than an opt-out in the W3C's do not track internet standard, internet companies will disregard it, Stuart Ingis, DAA general counsel and partner at Venable LLP's Washington office, said March 7 (12 PVLR 424, 3/11/13).

April 24 Senate Hearing

According to the Senate's committee hearings and meetings schedule, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation is scheduled to hold a hearing April 24 on the status of the development of voluntary do not track standards.

On Feb. 28, Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), chairman and member of the committee, re-introduced do no track legislation (S. 418).

The measure would authorize the FTC to promulgate a do not track standard and give the agency authority to impose civil penalties as high as $15 million against website operators that fail to abide by a user's tracking preferences (12 PVLR 369, 3/4/13).

By David McAuley with additional reporting by Katie W. Johnson  

Text of Ramirez's remarks is available at http://www.ftc.gov/speeches/ramirez/130417americanad-fed.pdf.

The DAA's survey report is available at http://www.aboutads.info/resource/image/Poll/Zogby_DAA_Poll.pdf.

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