Advertisers’ Proposal Gets Rejected In Latest Do Not Track Negotiations

    July 19, 2013

Earlier this year, the Do Not Track debate ran into a snag as the advertising groups and privacy proponents couldn’t even agree to disagree on a Do Not Track standard. This led to fears that the talks may just fall apart, but both groups were finally able to issue their own Do Not Track recommendations. Unsurprisingly, privacy proponents didn’t like what the advertisers suggested.

CNET reports that the Digital Advertising Alliance proposed some changes to the Do Not Track proposal last month that would limit some definitions, including what tracking and retaining data means. The Tracking Protection Working Group, a coalition made up of advertisers, browser vendors and privacy proponents, issued an official response to the DAA’s proposal that outright rejects their suggestions.

Was it fair of the Working Group to reject the advertiser’s proposal so quickly? Are advertisers getting fair representation in the Working Group? Let us know in the comments.

The question to the group emphasized that the two texts varied importantly on four issues, with the decision today indicating the group’s subsequent direction on those issues, plus a topic that differs based on the logical implications of the four issues:

1. Issue 5 – the definition of “tracking.” The DAA text is narrower in what is covered.

2. Issue 16 — definitions of collecting, retaining, using, and sharing data. The DAA text is narrower in what is covered.

3. Issue 188 – definition of de-identified data. The DAA text would treat data as “de-identified” in situations where the June text would not.

4. Issue 199 – limitations on the use of unique identifiers. The June text would prohibit the use of unique identifiers where alternatives are reasonably available, thus limiting collection of user data in those circumstances.

5. The effects of user choice. Under the June text, the Do Not Track mechanism would opt the user out of its broader definition of tracking. Under the DAA proposal, targeting of advertisements would not be affected by the Do Not Track standard; instead, users would use the separate DAA opt-out mechanism if they wished to limit targeted advertising.

The Working Group were also unsatisfied with how the DAA’s proposal completely ignored what they feel are the two main pillars of Do Not Track – Do Not Target and Do Not Collect. For the former, they say that the DAA’s own tools don’t prevent users from being targeted, and therefore do no “meet the widely-understood meaning of Do Not Target.” As for the latter, the DAA stripped out a standard that called for advertisers to “not rely on unique identifiers for users or devices if alternative solutions are reasonably available.”

Do you think the DAA was right in narrowing Do Not Track definitions? Or was the Working Group at large right to reject it? Let us know in the comments.

In the end, the Working Group says it can’t move forward with the DAA’s proposal simply because it doesn’t fulfill the criteria that was laid out in the group’s charter:

  • 1. Consistent with the group’s charter. The charter says that a standard should define “mechanisms for expressing user preferences around Web tracking and for blocking or allowing Web tracking elements.” The DAA Proposal does not use the DNT signal to address either Do Not Target or Do Not Collect, and so does not fulfill the charter.
  • 2. Significant change from the status quo. The DAA Proposal data hygiene provisions address how to conduct market research and product development, but multiple comments state there is no significant change from the status quo. The overall comments indicate that the June Draft more clearly meets this criterion.
  • 3. Easy to explain why DNT:1 reduces tracking for participating sites. Based on discussions in the Group, and comments submitted, it is difficult to explain to users how the DAA Proposal reduces tracking for users who select DNT. Retargeting and profiling would continue unchanged. Collection would be unchanged, and the principal changes would be to how data is handled internally by companies after it is collected.
  • As you would expect, the advertising industry isn’t exactly happy with the Working Group rejecting its proposal:

    The broad industry proposal not selected by Professor Swire reflected the marketing and advertising community’s commitment to developing a working Do Not Track model that is true to our 2012 White House agreement and provides real choice to consumers, while at the same time protecting the economic engine of the Internet.

    Our organizations remain committed to any consensus process that seeks to keep control in the hands of Internet users.

    Unfortunately, the Do Not Track signal, as currently configured, does not and cannot reflect the real choices of Internet users. The signal has proven to be far too easy to hijack, allowing self-appointed intermediaries to turn DNT signals on, often without any knowledge, consent or input from users.

    The Working Group will continue to debate within the context of its original June proposal, but some players are already jumping the gun on implementing its own standards. Mozilla has been in the crosshairs of advertisers for most of this year as it moves ahead with a plan to block all third party cookies in Firefox. The non-profit recently shared a new plan that would allow it to target third party cookies without affecting the cookies that users are fine with, but advertisers say that Mozilla’s plan still negatively affects the ability of many small online businesses to serve targeted ads to consumers.

    All of this will likely come into play later this month as the Working Group meets to discuss changes to its current draft of standards. After that, it will work with browser vendors on how to best implement the agreed upon standards into Web browsers. Advertisers are likely to resist, but they might just end up agreeing with the Working Group at large in the end. It’s better to agree to voluntary standards than to invite government intervention – a fate that neither side wants.

    Do you think advertisers will go along with the Working Group at large to approve voluntary Do Not Track standards? Or will the government have to get involved? Let us know in the comments.