Keep Calm and Carry On – With or Without the W3C

keep-calm-and-carry-onLate last night, my blackberry alerted me that the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) attempt to create a workable “do not track” standard was finally dead.

Okay, it didn’t happen quite like that.  Perhaps a little backstory is in order.

For months and months, DMA has been participating in the W3C’s Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG).  What the heck is a TPWG, you ask?  The TPWG is a group of companies, trade associations, academics and consumer activists brought together to create a technical standard that would enable browser-based do-not-track headers.

(Yes, the Digital Advertising Alliance’s AboutAds program already provides consumers with robust choices in the collection and use of data online.  Yes, we already have a great tool available which provides consumers with transparency and choice over the marketing messages they receive online.  You’ve clearly been paying attention! But I digress…)

For months and months, the TPWG has gone in circles over draft standards, without much progress toward a solution.  The W3C even went so far as to swap out the co-chairs at one point, in an effort to revitalize the flagging process.  Still, the chasm was wide.

Two weeks ago, the companies and associations at the TPWG table introduced a proposal supported by a broad swath of industry and intended to finally create a path forward on the Do Not Track issue.  This industry consensus proposal outlined a workable Do Not Track standard that would provide a significant advancement in consumer privacy, while protecting the Internet-driven economy.  The proposal reflected the marketing and advertising community’s commitment to developing a working Do Not Track model that was laid out by DMA, DAA and others at the White House in January 2012.  We introduced this proposal with confidence that it could be widely adoption by industry if accepted by the W3C.

And so…late last night, the TPWG co-chairs announced that they had rejected the industry consensus proposal in favor of sticking with an earlier editors’ draft that has already drawn strong objections from both industry and consumer activists.   As written, the editors’ draft would create a Do Not Track signal that does not and cannot reflect the real choices of Internet users. The signal has proven to be far too easy to hijack, allowing self-appointed intermediaries to turn DNT signals on, often without any knowledge, consent or input from users.

As a result, it now seems that the W3C will move forward in a futile effort to put forth an unwieldy and untenable standard that fails to improve consumer privacy and will almost certainly be rejected by industry.  Given that industry adoption and consumer protection are the two metrics for the success of a W3C standard…I do not see how this can possibly be called a “win” by anyone.  C’est la vie.

But all is not lost.  There is a silver lining here – for marketers and consumers alike.

DMA and the other DAA associations remain committed to any consensus process that seeks to keep control in the hands of Internet users.  We are going to keep up the good work being done through the DAA to provide consumers with meaningful choices across the Internet.  Regardless of what happens next at the W3C, we will continue to innovate and advance our consumer choice tools at pace with the evolution of marketing technologies.

So now you’ve heard my two cents on the last 24 hours.  Here are a few others’…

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