In perhaps the biggest challenge yet to the legitimacy of the Do Not Track standard-making process, the Digital Advertising Alliance is giving up on efforts to build consensus for a browser-based DNT solution for Internet users.
The self-regulatory group will also begin its own efforts to initiate a browser-based tracking choice mechanism for Internet users, according to Managing Director Lou Mastria.
"After more than two years of good-faith effort and having contributed significant resources, the DAA no longer believes that the [Tracking Protection Working Group] is capable of fostering the development of a workable 'do not track' solution," Mastria said in a message to the group this morning.
The DAA is only the latest member of the working group to hoist its bindle and hop a southbound train. Privacy advocate Jonathan Mayer quit in July, and co-chair Peter Swire resigned last month to accept a plum surveillance committee appointment.
Mayer wrote at the time of his departure, "Given the lack of a viable path to consensus, I can no longer justify the substantial time, travel and effort associated with continuing in the Working Group.”
Mastria echoed that sentiment in his letter to TPWG chair Jeff Jaffe, "Rather than continue to work in a forum that has failed, we intend to commit our resources and time in participating in efforts that can achieve results while enhancing the consumer digital experience."
Those efforts include fostering the DAA's 3-year-old AdChoices behavioral targeting opt-out program, as well as a new effort to work directly with browsers to honor consumer ad tracking and serving choices. Of that, Mastria wrote:
"The DAA will immediately convene a process to evaluate how browser-based signals can be used to meaningfully address consumer privacy. The DAA looks forward to working with browsers, consumer groups, advertisers, marketers, agencies and technologists. This DAA-led process will be a more practical use of our resources than to continue to participate at the W3C."
The DAA represents the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association, the Network Advertising Initiative and others. Some of those groups -- including the IAB, DMA, and NAI -- said today they will continue to work on the TPWG, so Mastria's disavowal doesn't remove industry from the process entirely. But it does call into question whether Do Not Track can credibly move forward with so many influential parties bowing out.
In a statement emailed to the IAB's members, IAB general counsel Mike Zaneis said, "As a DAA board member I personally support this decision [to quit the TPWG], including the exploration of whether the DAA can develop its own browser-based consumer choice mechanism. You will hear more about that work in the near future.
"I wanted to make it perfectly clear that the IAB will continue to participate in the W3C DNT Working Group. We have been part of this process since the very beginning, way back in September of 2011, and we will continue our efforts to produce a workable DNT standard within the W3C process."
Earlier this summer the TPWG -- which is hosted by the Worldwide Web Consortium -- rejected a draft proposal from the DAA that would have allowed advertisers to continue collecting and using behavioral data in a manner consistent with historical tracking "opt-out" standard. At the time Mastria called it “unfortunate” and “adding more pressure” to meet the group’s upcoming deadline.
Below is the full text of Mastria's letter to the TWPG:
"Dear Mr. Jaffe:
After serious consideration, the leadership of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) has agreed that the DAA will withdraw from future participation in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG). 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. 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 meaningfully to address consumer privacy.
During more than two years since the W3C began its attempt at a dnt standard, the DAA has delivered real tools to millions of consumers. It has grown participation; enhanced transparency with more than a trillion ad impressions per month delivered with the DAA’s Icon making notice and choice information available within one-click of the ad; educated millions of consumers and provided browser-based persistent plug ins. The DAA has also succeeded in applying its principles to all of the participants in the digital ecosystem. Furthermore, we have expanded these consumer safeguards into 30 countries and clarified how the DAA’s Principles apply in the mobile Web and app environments.
Going forward, the DAA intends to focus its time and efforts on growing this already-successful consumer choice program in “desktop,” mobile and in-app environments. The DAA is confident that such efforts will yield greater advances in consumer privacy and industry self-regulation than would its continued participation at the W3C.
Despite extension after extension of its charter year after year by the W3C, the TPWG has yet to reach agreement on the most elementary and material issues facing the group. These open items include fundamental issues and key definitions that have been discussed by this group since its inception without reaching consensus, including:
- Defining a harm or problem it seeks to prevent.
- Defining the term “tracking."
- Identifying limitations on the use of unique identifiers.
- Determining the effect of user choice.
Concerned about the TPWG’s inability to resolve such basic issues, the DAA wrote a letter to you on October 2, 2012, expressing its strong concern with the W3C’s foray into setting public policy standards. In particular, the letter noted that the W3C “has been designed to build consensus around complex technology issues, not complex public policy matters.” In response, despite the turmoil evident at that time, you personally assured us that appropriate procedures and policies would be applied to the process and the W3C’s retention of Professor Swire would settle and bring legitimacy to the process.
In the ensuing eight months that led up to the July 2013 deadline imposed on the TPWG, the DAA worked in good faith with other stakeholders, supporting proposals consistent with recommendations from the U.S. Administration and the former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Unfortunately, these 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. As others in the working group have substantiated, as a result of Swire’s actions there is no longer a legitimate TPWG procedure. Jonathan Mayer, commenting on the working process, stated, “We do not have clear rules of decision. And even if we were to have procedural commitments, they could be unilaterally cast aside at any time. This is not process: this is the absence of process.” Roy T. Fielding, Senior Principal Scientist at Adobe, highlighted the dictatorial approach taken by chairs who have eschewed participant input and subrogated participants’ right to vote on issues.
In recent weeks, you have indicated to TPWG participants that you have no intent to revisit acts or processes (or the lack thereof) that occurred leading up to July 2013, and instead plan to move forward. However, it is not possible to move forward without an accounting for the previous flagrant disregard for procedure.
Today, parties on all sides agree that the TPWG is not a sensible use of W3C resources and that the process will not lead to a workable result. For example, Jonathan Mayer, in his recent letter of resignation from the TPWG, stated: “Given the lack of a viable path to consensus, I can no longer justify the substantial time, travel, and effort associated with continuing in the Working Group.” John Simpson, the director of the Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project, commented on the news of the departure of TPWG co-chairman Professor Swire: “Peter Swire gave it a good shot, but I don’t think that he or anybody can get this group to a general consensus.” These participants and others who previously supported the TPWG now conclude that the process has devolved into an exercise in frustration on all sides without any meaningful increase in consumer choice or transparency.
The DAA agrees with these parties on this matter. Therefore, rather than continue to work in a forum that has failed, we intend to commit our resources and time in participating in efforts that can achieve results while enhancing the consumer digital experience. The DAA will immediately convene a process to evaluate how browser-based signals can be used to meaningfully address consumer privacy. The DAA looks forward to working with browsers, consumer groups, advertisers, marketers, agencies, and technologists. This DAA-led process will be a more practical use of our resources than to continue to participate at the W3C.
With the departure of the latest TPWG co-chair as well as a key staff member, and no definitive process to move forward, the DAA recommends that that the W3C should not attempt to resurrect a process that has clearly reached the end of its useful life.
The DAA will continue to move forward in its own area of expertise, advancing consumer control, transparency, and other critical practices through its own program.