California’s “Do Not Track” Law Keeps Door Open for Standard

Ad groups aren’t coming out in favor of a new California law requiring disclosure of whether a website follows “Do Not Track” requests, but the law isn't drawing passionate criticism either. That could suggest there's still hope for an internationally recognized standard.

Online privacy advocates and trade groups haven’t exactly found much common ground in talks about creating a universal “Do Not Track” standard. In fact, the ground’s been looking shakier than usual these days.

But the reaction to passage of a online tracking privacy law in California suggests there may still be solid footing for a proposal. More details:

The new law: The California law requires additional disclosure, apart from the stated privacy policy, about whether websites follow the “do not track” standard. The state is so large and prominent—and such rules are so difficult to break down to state-by-state levels—that, in practical terms, many sites will have to follow the new disclosure law signed last week by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. “The support for AB 370 resonated statewide as Californians expressed their concern with entities tracking their information, many times without their knowledge or consent,” said State Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi (D), the bill’s main sponsor, in a statement. “While we must continue to foster innovation, we must likewise ensure that consumer protection and privacy are key priorities as technology advances.”

The context: The California disclosure law’s passage comes at a time when momentum is going against drafting a collective Do Not Track standard—at least one approved by an international body. Last month, the Digital Advertising Alliance left the international working group convened to find a solution after the group’s slow progress over more than two years failed to yield even a framework for a standard. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group remains active, however; it recently appointed two co-chairs.

Will it have an effect? Depends on who you ask. The state law itself hasn’t received a completely negative reaction from ad groups such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Direct Marketing Association, both of which spoke to The Hill. But the groups are convinced that the California law would not have an effect on the W3C talks. In fact, DMA’s Vice President of Government Affairs Rachel Thomas praised lawmakers for writing it in a way that encourages industry self-regulation. From the other side, John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project, told The Hill that the law increases pressure on ad groups, but says he continues “to have doubts that the [W3C] group is capable of reaching consensus.”

San Francisco Chronicle technology columnist James Temple, meanwhile, says that that lack of pushback against the state law from industry groups suggests it may not be tough enough. Its existence will encourage journalists to keep an eye on such policies, though, he says. “While it is abundantly clear that few consumers carefully read the privacy policies of the sites and apps they use, tech journalists and privacy advocates do,” he recently wrote. “So you can be sure that if this law goes into effect, stories will follow emphasizing that big reputable companies have made the conscious decision to ignore the wishes of their users.”

Will you update your site’s privacy policy based on California’s new law? Let us know in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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