Digital Advertising Alliance Quits Do Not Track Group

The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) has formally withdrawn from the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C’s) Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG), citing an “absence of process” and claiming its good faith efforts to create Internet privacy policies were rejected out of hand by former W3C co-chair Peter Swire.

“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,” wrote DAA Executive Director Lou Mastria in a letter to W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe sent yesterday. The group, Mastria pointed out, had not only failed to agree on a definition of the term “tracking,” but could not even agree on what problem it sought to prevent.

Mastria wrote that workable solutions devised by the DAA, consistent with recommendations from the former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), were summarily vetoed by Swire “in order to anoint his own path forward. As a result of Swire’s actions there is no longer a legitimate TPWG procedure.”

Swire, a former law professor at The Ohio State University who last November was ushered in with great fanfare as co-chair of TPWG, failed to bring the committee to any consensus by this year’s July deadline. Swire then resigned from TPWG to join President Obama’s new intelligence review panel.

“The W3C thought if they brought it a celebrity QB, they could move the game plan forward, but it stalled,” says DAA general counsel Stuart Ingis. “They aren’t capable of doing it without forwarding their own agenda.”

The DAA has announced that, on October 10 in San Francisco, it will gather all current stakeholders in the Web privacy issue to form a new group and formulate a workable solution. “We’ve already reached out to the consumer groups and we’re in agreement that there should be consumer choice and opt-out,” Ingis says. “We’ll get an agreement on the policy goal we’re trying to achieve. They’ve never done that. We’ll set a target and figure out how to hit it, and we should be able to do this in a handful of months.”

The DAA was not the first party to walk away from TPWG in disgust. Stanford University privacy advocate Jonathan Mayer resigned shortly after the group failed to meet its July deadline. “We have now held 10 in-person meetings and 78 conference calls. We have exchanged 7,148 emails,” Mayer wrote in his resignation letter. “But we still have not resolved our longstanding key disagreements, including: What information can websites collect, retain, and use? What sorts of user interfaces and defaults are compliant, and can websites ignore noncompliant browsers?”

Mayer asserted: “There must come a stopping point. There must come a time when we agree to disagree.”

That’s the point at which DAA found itself this week. Though some observers feel that the DAA will take flak from government and consumer groups, Ingis said that leaving TPWG was not a hard decision for the board. “It was a hard decision not to do it after sending them essentially the same letter last year,” he says.

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