High level discussions on online tracking
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Deutsch: Hochrangige Diskussion über Online-Tracking
A meeting organised jointly by the University of Berkeley and the Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam drew together an outstanding collection of international experts, NGOs and industry representatives to discuss online tracking protection and browsers.
Information Society Commissioner Neelie Kroes opened the event where she brandished the "stick" of strict enforcement of the e-Privacy Directive if industry did not accept the "carrot" of self-regulation to achieve compliance. She described as "encouraging" the EASA and IAB Best Practice Recommendation, which uses a tiny icon that aims at alerting users that they are being tracked and profiled and being delivered advertising designed to match that profile - using a cookie as an opt-out mechanism.
She pointed out that tracking is far more than cookies and can be done via browser fingerprinting and add-ons. She therefore called on the advertising industry to come up with a "do not track" (DNT) standard that "must be rich enough for users to know exactly what compliant companies do with their information and for me to be able to say to industry: if you implement this, then I can assume you comply with your legal obligations under the ePrivacy Directive." She challenged the industry to come up with such a standard within twelve months.
Commissioner Kroes' speech was followed by one from Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill. She provided an overview of the current US thinking and policy development. She said that her thinking was driven by three key concepts - the need for privacy by design, the need for simplified choice and the need for increased transparency. Regarding a DNT standard, she said it needed to be easy to use, effective, universal, had to cover collection as well as use of data and had to represent a persistent choice. The use of data and the persistent choice have proved to be problematic due , for example at least one case in the US where an "opt-out" offered by an online company only lasted several days.
The third policy-maker to speak was Robert Madelin, Director General of DG Information Society of the European Commission. He acknowledged and welcomed the G8 approach that Internet regulation needed to be convergent and interoperable. He described his minimum criteria for the creation of self-regulatory systems, the basis of which comes from a document produced when Mr Madelin was Director General of the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General of the Commission. Key points which he stresses are clear goals from the outset and involvement of all relevant stakeholders from the outset and clear metrics for the measurement of results.
The remainder of the meeting consisted mainly of very high-level panel discussions and a fascinating insight into the extent of online tracking, the technologies used and the main companies involved by Ashkan Soltani.
IAB/EASA Best practice guideline
Do Not Track: The Regulators' Challenge
Wall Street Journal's "What They Know" series of articles
New code for online behavioural ads – will it work? (16.04.2011)
Online behavioural ads – is the industry doing enough? (17.02.2011)
FTC's materials about OBA
(Contribution by Joe McNamee - EDRi)