Privacy Advisor

The End for DNT? Not So Fast

September 18, 2013

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

While both former Chairman Peter Swire and Executive Director of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) Lou Mastri pronounced the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG) alternately as having no “workable path to a standard” and “not a sensible use of W3C resources,” the W3C isn’t quite ready to give up the ghost.

On Wednesday, the W3C announced two new chairs to the TPWG: Carl Cargill, a director at software firm Adobe, and Justin Brookman of the Center for Democracy and Technology. They will join incumbent Matthias Schunter, principal engineer at Intel.

Further, the TPWG made note that it has this week released updates to two working drafts, those for Tracking Preference Expression, which defines the technical mechanisms for expressing a tracking preference via the Do-Not-Track (DNT) request header field in HTTP, and for Tracking Compliance and Scope, which sets out practices for websites to comply with DNT.

In fact, Schunter released, as well, “The Chair’s Plan to Get to Last Call” yesterday. In it, he acknowledges that, “For several major contentious issues in the group, we have had sufficient debate that it appears unlikely that we will achieve unanimity for these issues” and says the group is now focused on getting a release out in 2013-2014 that can be considered “DNT 1.0,” with the understanding that as technology evolves, so will the standard.

He also writes that the group is now prioritizing the compliance spec over the preference expression spec, and that substantial work on the expression spec will not happen until compliance has reached last call.

That is, if they get that far.

Writing on the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Web site, Brookman notes that his chairmanship could be a “short-term gig.”

“Next month,” he writes, “the group is going to vote on whether to continue work on defining a Do-Not-Track standard under a new, streamlined process or whether just to close the group down.” At the very least, he writes, the group needs to stop “searching for an elusive grand bargain between advocates and third-party ad networks that hasn’t materialized over two years of negotiations.”

Perhaps if there is agreement on Schunter’s new process, offering promise of new progress, the group will continue. There is also room for optimism in the continuing participation of DAA members like the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Network Advertising Initiative and the Direct Marketing Association.

"Should the NAI withdraw today, the working group will be comprised of consumer advocates, U.S. and European regulators and a dozen large, global corporations that sit in a different place in the online advertising ecosystem," Marc Groman, executive director of the NAI, told Adweek. And commentators like Russell Glass, CEO of Bizo, an online B2B marketing firm, continue to show interest in finding a workable DNT solution that does not involve browsers simply ignoring all cookies and offering users zero tracking by default.

This last point is what Brookman calls his own reason for optimism. The alternative to a DNT standard coming out of this multistakeholder process ranges from “cookie blocking to outright ad blocking,” and it’s unlikely the third-party ecosystem prefers that alternative to continuing with the W3C process.

“In order to be meaningful,” Brookman writes, “Do Not Track will require changes to the way the Web works today, but the incentives should be there to make it work.”

Read More By Sam Pfeifle:
Is This the End for DNT? DAA Pulls Out of W3C Process
A Look at the Future of Privacy Notices (If They Have a Future)
Skepticism Surrounds NSA Review; Massive “Black” Budget Revealed
A Turbulent Time for Gathering Privacy Commissioners