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Every time negotiations between the advertising industry, Internet browsers, and privacy advocates appear to have hit a nadir, new developments reveal that a "Do Not Track" standard is even further out of reach than previously thought.
Such is now the case with the news that the Digital Advertising Alliance has become the latest major party to announce it will no longer participate in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)'s Tracking Protection Working Group.
The DAA, an industry group representing the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Direct Marketing Association, and others, cited a lack of progress in more than two years of negotiations as its reason for leaving. The DAA put forth a set of proposed rules in July that was roundly rejected by browsers and privacy advocates.
"After more than two years of good-faith effort and having contributed significant resources, the DAA no longer believes that the TPWG (Tracking Protection Working Group) is capable of fostering the development of a workable 'do not track' solution," DAA managing director Lou Mastria wrote in a letter announcing the group's withdrawal.
"Do Not Track" is the signal a Web browser sends to a website asking the site not to track a user's visit. The Tracking Protection Working Group was created in hopes of creating universal rules for handling these signals.
One of the major issues the working group has failed to resolve is whether Web browsers should be set up to automatically send "Do Not Track" signals to every site a user visits, or whether users should first have to select a "Do Not Track" option from within the browser's setting. Advertisers and publishers hoping to collect data to serve targeted advertisements would prefer the default option to allow them to track users' visits.
The DAA's departure is the latest blow to the group, which has failed to make significant progress since its inception more than two years ago. In July, prominent privacy advocate and Jonathan Mayer quit the group in frustration that it did not seem to have a clear aim for what it hoped to accomplish or a firm commitment to deadlines. This came shortly browsers and privacy activists decided that the DAA's proposal was not nearly enough of a compromise.
Then last month, TPWG co-chair Peter Swire left to work on President Obama's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology.
Several of the DAA's members, including the influential IAB, will continue to have representation in the working group, but it remains to be seen how much clout the working group will have without the industry umbrella group.
The DAA says it will convene its own forum to address consumer privacy issues and continue working on its AdChoices service, which allows users to opt out of targeted ads on certain websites.
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