Helping to Finalize Do Not Track
Written by Justin Brookman
Earlier today, during the W3C’s weekly Do Not Track call, it was announced that I’m going to be one of the new co-chairs of the Tracking Protection Working Group, along with Carl Cargill from Adobe. Having discussed this at length with the two previous chairs — Aleecia McDonald and Peter Swire — I harbor no illusions that this is going to be an easy job. However, I strongly believe that users deserve tools to control how their personal information is collected and used, and that Do Not Track can ultimately be configured to protect privacy while preserving the third-party advertising ecosystem.
Of course, this could be a short-term gig. Next month, 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. This vote is a (perhaps belated) recognition that the existing process just isn’t working — either the group needs to agree to adopt a new structure to finally and definitively settle the core issues, or we should wrap up and work on other solutions to allow users to limit data collection from online advertising. But we cannot just continue to have the same discussions over and over again — searching for an elusive grand bargain between advocates and third-party ad networks that hasn’t materialized over two years of negotiations.
If the group decides to move forward, we will need to work quickly and methodically to make actual decisions on the questions that have stymied the group thus far: how to ensure that the DNT signal reflects user choice; how much data third parties can collect for operational purposes; how service providers and data processors are treated under the standard. In July, the Chairs finally made some headway toward certainty by choosing a W3C draft over a trade association proposal as the base text for discussion. Developing a robust standard that will be voluntarily implemented by industry is going to be challenging. However, the browser vendors in recent years have increasingly signaled that they’re going to take action to protect their users’ privacy, and the alternatives to Do Not Track (ranging from cookie blocking to outright ad blocking) must be considerably more threatening to the third-party ecosystem. In order to be meaningful, Do Not Track will require changes to the way the web works today, but the incentives should be there to make it work.