Digital Advertising Alliance Leaves the Do Not Track Working Group

"After serious consideration," said Lou Mastria, managing director at the Digital  Advertising Alliance, New York in a letter to W3C's Jeff Jaffe, "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)."

TPWG has, for the last two years, been working to define standards for 'do not track,' the proposal that users should be able to choose whether or not to be tracked by third-party websites. DAA is a consortium of seven leading advertising and marketing trading groups.

"After more than two years of good-faith effort and having contributed significant resources," continues Mastria, "the DAA no longer believes that the TPWG is capable of fostering the development of a workable 'do not track' (“dnt”) solution."

In particular, he is concerned that after years of discussion, TPWG has failed to reach consensus on even fundamental issues -- such as a definition of the harm it seeks to prevent, determining the effect of user choice, and even a definition of the term 'tracking.'

In reality, DAA's departure merely adds to TPWG's woes. At the end of July privacy advocate Jonathan Mayer (who had last year revealed that Google had subverted Safari's cookie settings, ultimately leading to a $22.5 million penalty from the FTC) also left the group. In his 'resignation' email, he said, "This is not process: this is the absence of process. 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.”

A month later Professor Peter Swire stepped down as co-chair of the working group. Although he did so to join the White House panel of five experts investigating privacy issues around the NSA’s surveillance programs, he was known to be unhappy with TPWG progress.

According to ZDnet, he responded to the DAA letter with the comment, "My 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."

Writing in the Marketing Pilgrim blog, Cynthia Boris puts it more plainly. "For the system to work, everyone has to be playing by the same rules and so far, it’s been a no go. Advertisers want consumers to opt-out of tracking. Browser companies want to go DNT by default, forcing people to opt-in. And since there are no legal requirements, companies can choose to ignore the opt-out list and track folks anyway. Useless. And that’s why The Digital Advertising Alliance is calling it quits."

It seems increasingly likely that the only way to a DNT consensus is if one is imposed by legislation. This is the route being taken in Europe. One of the most contentious areas of the proposed General Data Protection Regulation is the users' so-called 'right to be forgotten.' Almost by definition, a right to be forgotten requires a do not track option.

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