The Do Not Track privacy hearing called by Sen. Jay Rockefeller for Wednesday before the commerce committee is bound to feature some fireworks.
That's because Rockefeller has shown himself to be no fan of the advertising industry's self-regulating Ad Choices program, which gives consumers the ability to opt-out of targeted ads. He also believes it is time the ad industry gets on board with efforts to develop a universal browser-based Do Not Track system by working within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Rockefeller has a lot of support from privacy groups. Ahead of the hearing, six groups on Monday issued a statement supporting Rockefeller's Do Not Track bill, which authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to establish standards for giving consumers the ability to tell online companies and mobile apps that they do not want their information collected.
Like Rockefeller, the privacy groups are getting impatient with the pace of the W3C's efforts to reach an agreement on a DNT standard and the Commerce Department-sponsored multistakeholder meetings to develop privacy guidelines for apps.
"The pace with both.... has been glacial," said John Simpson, the privacy director for Consumer Watchdog, one of the six groups, along with The Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and U.S. PIRG. "We need to see the big stick of legislation. It's the only way to drive anything forward on either front."
Advertisers argue they already deliver Do Not Track options to consumers. At Wednesday's hearing, the digital ad community will be represented by Lou Mastria, the managing director of the Digital Advertising Alliance. He will no doubt trot out big numbers showing how, over the past two years, the ad industry has fully participated in the self-regulation program developed two years ago following discussions with the Federal Trade Commission.
Despite the DAA's progress, Mastria will still be on the defense to explain the ad industry's position that it would honor a Do Not Track browser solution as long as it's not a default browser like Microsoft's.
Justin Brookman, of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s consumer privacy project, and is a member of the W3C, will represent privacy groups.
Also testifying Wednesday will be Harvey Anderson, svp of business and legal affairs for Mozilla, who will likely talk about about Firefox's potential plan to block cookies; and Adam Thierer, senior research fellow for George Mason University's Mercatus Center, a free market think tank.