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W3C Rejects Marketers’ Privacy Plan; Marketers Unfazed

The World Wide Web Consortium rejected the Digital Advertising Alliance’s (DAA) proposal for a Do Not Track (DNT) standard that would be acceptable to industry and privacy activists alike. The group’s Tracking Protection Working Group (TPWG) had been laboring over guidelines for the past two years, with a deadline for an agreement set for the end of this month.  With no consensus, the DNT issue may end up in the laps of legislators.

TPWG co-chairs Matthias Schunter, Intel’s Chief Technologist, and Peter Swire, an Ohio State law professor and veteran of the Obama administration, wrote in their report that they “will not revisit the choices presented in the DAA change proposal and rejected in this decision.” Instead, they said they would work on refinements to the “June Draft,” a W3C plan that marketers took issue with.

The Direct Marketing Association’s VP of Government Affairs Rachel Nyswander Thomas, was surprised by the group’s rejection. “We figured we got the W3C to a place where they could agree to a plan that would protect consumers and be adoptable by industry,” she said. “We submitted a plan to de-identify the data, to take it from small buckets and put it into bigger ones.”

The DAA proposed that data-trackers not identify consumers as having visited specific sites–say Ford or Toyota—but characterize them instead as being interested in cars. The alliance, which is composed of groups including the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Association of National Advertisers, as well as the DMA, also insisted that consumers be allowed to make their own decisions about tracking.  Mozilla recently unveiled a plan to disallow all tracking through its Firefox browser.

“Unfortunately, the approach that Professor Swire has determined as the position the W3C working group will follow has no clear path to being adopted,” said DAA general counsel Stuart Ingis.  “Companies are not going to adhere to DNT flags that are not set by consumers and thus do not reflect the consumer’s choice.   The DAA already has an end–to-end system that effectively provides transparency and choice to consumers and that has strong enforcement.”

The DAA today released a statement implying the TPWG decision shows little regard for the economic underpinnings of the internet or for consumer choice. It quoted a Zogby poll that found that 68 percent of consumers prefer to get at least some Internet ads directed at their interests and 75 percent prefer to make their own decisions about relevant advertisement

“I’ve heard reactions that this decision is a body blow to marketers, but I patently disagree,” Thomas said. “We already have a privacy program for consumers that works and that will grow. The W3C will continue on, but only as an academic exercise.”

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