For better or worse, the oxygen has been sucked out of the self-regulatory program over the last year as Do Not Track took center stage. First recommended by the Federal Trade Commission in late 2010, the Do Not Track tech spec is now in the hands of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and its Tracking Protection Working Group. Group members include representatives of browser makers, publishers, marketers and privacy advocates, who have been engaged in a contentious negotiation going on two years.
Mozilla General Counsel Harvey Anderson told the Commerce Committee that 45 million users – or 17% of the company’s US install base – support the ability to block the cookies on the web browser.
When asked to identify the harm that behavioral tracking tools like third-party cookies pose to consumers, Anderson suggested such tools are “undermining confidence in the internet’s ecosystem. Trust is the true currency that needs to be protected."
Mastria argued that while DAA’s surveys show consumers often describing targeted online ads as “creepy,” it is difficult to define the specific harm behind it. “What consumers have told us is top of mind for them,” Mastria said, “are viruses, malware, ID theft. Interest-based advertising is not part of the list.”
In terms of when the W3C will be able to deliver on Do Not Track standards, Mastria demurred and insisted that creating standards “takes time.”
Rockefeller bluntly informed Mastria that companies “make money by selling ads [and] we’re talking about making it more difficult for you to sell ads,” but privacy is a “basic American instinct.”
Two years ago Rockefeller introduced a bill, the Do Not Track Online Act, that would allow users to opt out of having their online activities tracked by Internet companies. Companies would be allowed to collect information necessary for their website or online service to function, but they would be required to destroy or anonymize the data when it is no longer needed. The bill ultimately did not move beyond Rockefeller's committee. He reintroduced the bill earlier this year.