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Do-Not-Track Show Will Go On at W3C -- For Now

Group Names Two New Co-Chairs

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Justin Brookman, W3C co-chair
Justin Brookman, W3C co-chair

Despite a pullout from the process by a key ad industry player, the Worldwide Web Consortium's Do Not Track show will go on, at least for the time being. The W3C's Tracking Protection Working Group has named two new co-chairs, replacing Peter Swire who left recently to join the Obama administration.

The notable pullout of Digital Advertising Alliance Managing Director Lou Mastria looked like the final nail in the W3C's do-not-track coffin. But while DAA is out, its member organizations -- a who's who of ad industry trade associations including the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Direct Marketing Association -- are still in, though not exactly in spirit.

The W3C on Sept. 18 announced two new co-chairs to head up the DNT standards process, a now two-year-long slog intended to define a browser-based do-not-track standard. The new chairs are Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Project on Consumer Privacy, and Carl Cargill, standards principal at Adobe Systems. The two will work alongside existing co-chair Matthias Schunter, chief technologist and principal investigator at Intel Corp.

The addition of new co-chairs does not mean that the process will continue much further, however. Tracking Protection Working Group members have until early October to vote on a set of pathways for the project. They can stick with the same process or call the whole thing off.

"I'm primarily waiting for this vote to come in," said Mr. Brookman regarding his plans going forward. "There might be some limited work we can do in the short term," he added.

Keeping an eye on things
According to insiders, the main reason trade groups including the IAB and Network Advertising Initiative are remaining on board is to monitor the process.

"We've been told that if we weren't at the table then other parties would write the standard," said Mike Zaneis, senior VP and general counsel for IAB, who also sits on the DAA's board.

"What's fair to say is the W3C style multi-stakeholder process hasn't worked," he added.

"Should the NAI withdraw today, the Working Group will be comprised of consumer advocates, U.S and European regulators, and a dozen large, global corporations that sit in a different place in the online advertising ecosystem. Given this reality, NAI will continue to participate in W3C as well as coordinate closely with DAA, IAB, and our other sister associations on do not track and self-regulatory initiatives," wrote Marc Groman, executive director for NAI, in a statement.

"We will also continue to sit at the W3C table for the foreseeable future," said Rachel Thomas, VP of government affairs for the DMA. But sitting at the table does not indicate trust in the process in this case. "DMA doesn't see a way that the W3C can come to anything more than just an academic exercise," she said.

The ad industry has been considered obstructionist by privacy advocates and other parties involved in the W3C efforts. That criticism is bound to continue. The DAA, along with the ad associations that are still participating in the W3C group, plan to embark on their own browser-based DNT development project.

Key to that process, of course, will be browser companies. Whether IE maker Microsoft or Firefox maker Mozilla will be involved in that DAA project remains to be seen. Both companies have blocked third-party cookies in their browsers and come under fire by DAA for doing so.

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