ENDitorial: The DNT ship is listing

By EDRi · September 25, 2013

The latest developments in the W3C working group on Do Not Track (euphemistically called the tracking preference working group) since the last time we wrote about this effort are not good, sadly. First in late July the departure of Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student at Stanford who fought tirelessly to ensure that the W3C process would have a meaningful outcome from a privacy-perspective. More recently the departure of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) who declared the process “a colossal failure”.

It nonetheless is too early to declare the effort facilitated by the W3C as essentially over, but only for the reason that only the W3C can decide to end it at this stage. Given that the working group has only last June managed to decide that the standard is about gathering of personal data and not about use of personal data, a fairly basic issue that took it two years of fierce debate to settle, the amount of progress is negligible. And even that decision is not final, as has been indicated by the W3C co-chair.

Right now other advertising industry representatives have made it abundantly clear that they are only hanging on in the working group in order not to prevent it to formulate a standard that might force them to take internet users’ privacy into account. In that context it is increasingly worrisome that the W3C is trying to rush to something resembling a standard, regardless of its contents. As laudable the efforts by W3C to come to a truly multi-stakeholder process may be, it would be better for W3C and the wider internet if it were to acknowledge defeat.

By now it has become abundantly clear that several industry players value their short-term interest too much over their long-term interests to be able to come to self-regulation. It is time for W3C to call it quits and time for the European Commission to step in. Both for the sake of citizen’s privacy and European internet businesses for clarity on what constitutes consent for online tracking.

Tracking Preference Expression (DNT) – W3C Editor’s Draft 13 September 2013
Stanford privacy advocate gives up on ‘Do Not Track’ group (1.08.2013)
Do Not Track’s future in doubt as major ad group withdraws from talks (17.09.2013)
EDRi-gram: ENDitorial: Last Call for the W3C Do Not Track process (8.05.2013)

(Contribution by Walter van Holst, invited expert to the W3C DNT WG – EDRi member Vrijschrift – Netherlands)