Privacy Advisor

W3C Do Not Track in Limbo

October 10, 2013

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

Yesterday, the W3C’s Tracking Protection Working Group voted on whether to continue its efforts. The results? That remains unclear.

The voting itself is public and can be found here. However, even one of the group’s new chairs isn’t sure how to interpret the results. With no option clearly the winner, the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Justin Brookman, who joined the group as chair just last month, said he is unsure of the group’s next step and said that the W3C’s director, Tim Berners-Lee, would make the ultimate decision.

This was confirmed by Ian Jacobs, head of W3C communications, who said in an e-mail that in the next step, “The chairs will review the results, including comments, and suggest actions—including proposals for the director. I don’t have a timeframe yet, but I assume it will be soon.”

It is also worth noting that some 66 members of the working group have not voted at all.

While a winner might not be clear, there were some clear losers, including the option to stay the current course. Option one, “Go with the proposed plan,” received only 16 yes votes versus 26 no votes. It’s unlikely things will continue as they are.

However, the “No confidence” vote to “stop work” did not overwhelmingly win either. While 17 voters chose this as the most-preferable option, another 22 voted no, and another three voted yes but not preferred. Add in the fact that some organizations have more than one voter voting and you’ve got a muddle.

The clearest “winner” is likely option three, to “Finalize TPE first and then finalize Compliance,” essentially to figure out the definition of Do Not Track (DNT) and what tracking actually is, and then focus on figuring out compliance. Twenty-one voters went with a version of yes on this, with only 15 against.

Of course, for those who’ve been following this process for the last two years, the comments are likely the most interesting and, well, entertaining. Some commenters are quite strident.

Jeffrey Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy wrote, “This proceeding is so flawed, it’s a farce.” Lee Tien at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) agreed, but was more measured: “We appreciate the efforts of the W3C and all of the chairs to date, but EFF has lost confidence that the process will produce a standard that we would support.”

Similarly, John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog wrote “it is crystal clear that this working group cannot reach a meaningful consensus on a Do-Not-Track Compliance Standard. The working group should be disbanded … There is nothing dishonorable in admitting our differences are too great to overcome.”

However, not all have lost faith. Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the W3C, argued simply that, “I believe that the broad stakeholders of the web community require a DNT standard. I know of no other venue where that might take place.”

Amy Colando wrote that Microsoft also supports continuing the group’s work, saying, “A final, meaningful DNT standard will help build greater trust across the Internet ecosystem, and we look forward to continuing to work together to achieve this goal.”

Will that happen? The world at large will soon find out.

Read More By Sam Pfeifle:
Amidst U.S. Gov’t Shutdown, State AGs Chuckle at Idea of Federal Breach Law
“Privacy by Default” May Be Big Post-Regulation Issue
Privacy Enforcement: “It’s a Two-Way Street”
Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners Release Resolutions on Tracking, Profiling, International Cooperation