The web standards group that has been working toward an industrywide Do Not Track standard suffered another body blow this week as a major advertising trade group publicly abandoned the effort.
In a letter to the W3C Tracking Protection Working Group, Lou Mastria of the Digital Advertising Alliance announced the group’s decision to quit the program:
After more than two years of good-faith effort and having contributed significant resources, the DAA no longer believes that the TPWG is capable of fostering the development of a workable “do not track” (“dnt”) solution. As we depart W3C and TPWG, DAA will focus its resources on convening its own forum to evaluate how browser-based signals can be used meaningfully to address consumer privacy.
Later in the letter, the DAA says “parties on all sides agree that the TPWG is not a sensible use of W3C resources and that the process will not lead to a workable result.”
The TPWG started with good intentions. In response to threats of government regulation, the advertising industry and privacy groups agreed to work together on a voluntary standard. But throughout its stormy two-year history, those two groups have not been able to reach a common ground.
Here's the gory history, as chronicled here:
- Do Not Track debate reveals cracks in online privacy consensus (June 2012)
- (September 2012)
- (October 2012)
- (June 2013)
This is only the latest public body blow to the group, which has had sudden leadership changes and saw a major struggle this summer when the then-chairman, Peter Swire, rejected a draft written by the advertising industry and instead submitted an editor’s draft.
The process was already acrimonious. And then Swire left the TPWG suddenly last month when he was appointed by the White House to a new independent panel investigating privacy issues around the NSA’s surveillance programs.
In a response to the DAA letter, ex-chairman Swire agreed that the process is almost certainly destined to fail:
My own view is that the Working Group does not have a path to consensus that includes large blocs of stakeholders with views as divergent as the DAA, on the one hand, and those seeking stricter privacy rules, on the other. I devoted my time as co-chair to trying to find creative ways to achieve consumer choice and privacy while also enabling a thriving commercial Internet. I no longer see any workable path to a standard that will gain active support from both wings of the Working Group.
Judging from the acrimonious discussions on the W3C mailing list, there was no consensus on the final standards document. And that means the already overdue standard is likely to collapse.
And that means that the threat of legislation is back on the table. In California, a “Do Not Track” bill is on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature. The EU has already set stricter privacy guidelines than the TPWG was discussing. Maybe the U.S. government will even step in to rein in the online data industry, which is still able to fly under the radar as the NSA gets all the public heat from privacy advocates.
In his letter, Swire wrote: "We knew coming in that this was a hard problem. It remains a hard problem." That might be understating it. Too much data is being collected
As someone who has been watching this group struggle from the beginning, I can barely stand to watch anymore. The process is painful and the well-heeled advertising industry hasn't been willing to give an inch against the underfunded privacy groups. Time to call it quits.