DAA Leaves W3C Tracking Protection Working Group To Convene A New Process on Browser-Based Signals and Consumer Privacy

September 17, 2013

Today, the Digital Advertising Alliance chose to exit the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG), after a two-year attempt to finalize “do not track” definitions and technical specifications for the Internet. Going forward, DAA will pursue its own forum to evaluate how browser-based signals can meaningfully address consumer privacy.

Our letter to W3C Chief Executive Officer Jeff Jaffe follows:

September 16, 2013

Jeff Jaffe, CEO
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Re: DAA Participation in Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG)

Dear Mr. Jaffe:

After serious consideration, the leadership of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) has agreed that the DAA will withdraw from future participation in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG).  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.

During more than two years since the W3C began its attempt at a dnt standard, the DAA has delivered real tools to millions of consumers. It has grown participation; enhanced transparency with more than a trillion ad impressions per month delivered with the DAA’s Icon making notice and choice information available within one-click of the ad; educated millions of consumers and provided browser-based persistent plug ins. The DAA has also succeeded in applying its principles to all of the participants in the digital ecosystem. Furthermore, we have expanded these consumer safeguards into 30 countries and clarified how the DAA’s Principles apply in the mobile Web and app environments.

Going forward, the DAA intends to focus its time and efforts on growing this already-successful consumer choice program in “desktop,” mobile and in-app environments. The DAA is confident that such efforts will yield greater advances in consumer privacy and industry self-regulation than would its continued participation at the W3C.

Despite extension after extension of its charter year after year by the W3C, the TPWG has yet to reach agreement on the most elementary and material issues facing the group.  These open items include fundamental issues and key definitions that have been discussed by this group since its inception without reaching consensus, including:

·         Defining a harm or problem it seeks to prevent.

·         Defining the term “tracking”.

·         Identifying limitations on the use of unique identifiers.

·         Determining the effect of user choice.

Concerned about the TPWG’s inability to resolve such basic issues, the DAA wrote a letter to you on October 2, 2012, expressing its strong concern with the W3C’s foray into setting public policy standards.  In particular, the letter noted that the W3C “has been designed to build consensus around complex technology issues, not complex public policy matters.” In response, despite the turmoil evident at that time, you personally assured us that appropriate procedures and policies would be applied to the process and the W3C’s retention of Professor Swire would settle and bring legitimacy to the process.

In the ensuing eight months that led up to the July 2013 deadline imposed on the TPWG, the DAA worked in good faith with other stakeholders, supporting proposals consistent with recommendations from the U.S. Administration and the former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Unfortunately, these efforts were rejected out of hand by TPWG co-chair Peter Swire, who jettisoned the long-accepted W3C procedure in order to anoint his own path forward.  As others in the working group have substantiated, as a result of Swire’s actions there is no longer a legitimate TPWG procedure.  Jonathan Mayer, commenting on the working process, stated, “We do not have clear rules of decision.  And even if we were to have procedural commitments, they could be unilaterally cast aside at any time. This is not process: this is the absence of process.” Roy T. Fielding, Senior Principal Scientist at Adobe, highlighted the dictatorial approach taken by chairs who have eschewed participant input and subrogated participants’ right to vote on issues.

In recent weeks, you have indicated to TPWG participants that you have no intent to revisit acts or processes (or the lack thereof) that occurred leading up to July 2013, and instead plan to move forward.  However, it is not possible to move forward without an accounting for the previous flagrant disregard for procedure.

Today, 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.  For example, Jonathan Mayer, in his recent letter of resignation from the TPWG, stated: “Given the lack of a viable path to consensus, I can no longer justify the substantial time, travel, and effort associated with continuing in the Working Group.” John Simpson, the director of the Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project, commented on the news of the departure of TPWG co-chairman Professor Swire: “Peter Swire gave it a good shot, but I don’t think that he or anybody can get this group to a general consensus.” These participants and others who previously supported the TPWG now conclude that the process has devolved into an exercise in frustration on all sides without any meaningful increase in consumer choice or transparency.

The DAA agrees with these parties on this matter. Therefore, rather than continue to work in a forum that has failed, we intend to commit our resources and time in participating in efforts that can achieve results while enhancing the consumer digital experience. The DAA will immediately convene a process to evaluate how browser-based signals can be used to meaningfully address consumer privacy. The DAA looks forward to working with browsers, consumer groups, advertisers, marketers, agencies, and technologists. This DAA-led process will be a more practical use of our resources than to continue to participate at the W3C.

With the departure of the latest TPWG co-chair as well as a key staff member, and no definitive process to move forward, the DAA recommends that that the W3C should not attempt to resurrect a process that has clearly reached the end of its useful life.

The DAA will continue to move forward in its own area of expertise, advancing consumer control, transparency, and other critical practices through its own program.

Lou Mastria, CIPP, CISSP
Managing Director
Digital Advertising Alliance

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