Advertising Alliance Drops Out of “Do Not Track” Initiative

On Tuesday, the Digital Advertising Alliance left an international working group trying to determine how the online privacy standard will work, citing procedural concerns and a lack of progress. The decision comes with risks.

“Do Not Track” isn’t dead, but the working group tasked with designing the online privacy standard is on thin ice.

That’s because the Digital Advertising Alliance, an industry coalition of major ad-related associations, decided to leave the group on Tuesday. Here’s what happened:

The issue: Two and a half years ago, a collection of privacy advocates, experts, advertising associations, tech companies, and web standards groups created the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group. Its stated goal was to come up with an industrywide “Do Not Track” standard, similar to the “Do Not Call” list for phone numbers. While the DAA itself has worked since then to give consumers privacy options, including a browser plug-in it released, the working group has struggled to agree on a policy. (The DAA, in response to a Federal Trade Commission request, generated a self-regulatory solution, but FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez suggested in remarks to to the ad industry last April that it wasn’t sufficient.) Meanwhile, a number of moves outside of the working group have complicated the matter for advertisers, including a decision by Microsoft to enable Do Not Track by default on its Internet Explorer 10 browser.

The departure: On Tuesday, the DAA’s managing director, Lou Mastria, emailed members of the W3C to announce its departure from the voluntary program. He cited procedural issues his coalition believes were ignored by Georgia Institute of Technology professor Peter Swire, who cochaired the Tracking Protection Working Group. (Swire denied the claim, stating that “when participants don’t get the outcome they want on substance, they often blame the procedure.”) The DAA’s departure comes two months after privacy advocate and Stanford University graduate student Jonathan Mayer resigned from the working group; at the time, he raised concerns about the lack of progress made over two years. “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,” he wrote at the time.

The risks: As AdWeek notes, DAA’s decision to walk away comes with risks. The W3C effort was seen as a way to solve online privacy issues without legislation or increased FTC regulation. The Hill reports that Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) could move forward with legislation if the coalition fails to come up with a solution. Some DAA members—including the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), and the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI)—plan to remain a part of the working group without the alliance’s support. However, speaking to The Hill, DMA and IAB supported the DAA’s decision.

The future of the working group is unclear, but the FTC’s Ramirez told AdWeek that she will continue to work for a solution “whether that option emerges from within or outside the W3C.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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