What Exactly Does ‘Do Not Track’ Mean?

Digital Advertising Alliance is fighting misinformation

The digital ad business last month took a beating from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (R-W.Va.) during the Commerce committee’s eighth privacy hearing in the past 18 months. Rockefeller, a big proponent of Do Not Track legislation and disbeliever in self-regulation, harangued marketers and browser companies for having failed so far to come to a consensus on voluntary Do Not Track standards. A direct target of Rockefeller’s tirade was the Digital Advertising Alliance, a coalition of media and marketing trade groups including the 4A’s, IAB and DMA. The DAA has spent the past two years touting the benefits of an ad-choices program that lets consumers opt out of targeted ads. But clearly its efforts haven’t resonated with lawmakers. As the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) meets in Sunnyvale, Calif., this week to further hash out these issues, DAA managing director Lou Mastria offers his take on whether DAA can help the industry achieve consensus on DNT.

The DAA got hammered by Sen. Rockefeller. Does your group have a perception problem in Washington?

There was a fair amount of misinformation that doesn’t help anybody, and it potentially hurts. There were bits of information that weren’t at Sen. Rockefeller’s disposal, or maybe he chose not to pay attention. We’ve had folks talk with him, his committee and his staff. He could have been better informed about our enforcement. I’d hoped he would be more grounded in some of the realities that we don’t enforce ourselves; the Better Business Bureau does it. We’ve had 19 enforcement actions to date.

So what can the DAA do?

We’re certainly not perfect, but we have delivered on every commitment we made. We’ve put the single most transparent program on the Web. Consumers don’t have to look through a lengthy privacy policy. We’re going to have to spend a lot more time educating in the policy area. Part of the challenge will continue to be that Rockefeller and others like him are as properly educated as can be. It’s part of our job to tell them they aren’t hearing the whole story. The reality is, we’ve not risen to the challenge.

What happened with the White House agreement in which advertisers would honor an opt-out browser solution to Do Not Track?

Somewhere two companies [Microsoft and Mozilla] took the standard and watered it down. We thought we had an agreement that it would be off [not on] by default. I hope [these two companies] aren’t intractable. Microsoft and Mozilla were there at the White House and agreed to the same agreement we did; we’re hopeful we can get back to that. We’ll continue to work at W3C and try to get back to that agreement. That will be our focus. We’re the only program that is actually working today. And there are consequences for not following it. None of that exists in the browsers.

What are the prospects at W3C for coming up with a standard definition for DNT?

I don’t know. I certainly don’t envy Peter Swire [co-chair of the W3C Do Not Track working group]. It’s a challenge to bring together that many stakeholders and cultures. I don’t honestly think we can resolve it at that meeting, but I hope it’s going in the right direction of the White House agreement.

How do you change the Do Not Track conversation?

The word “track” is a reflexive, loaded word. We have to fight against the Do Not Track phrase. We know there is an inherent fear that a lot of folks play on. Consumers and we are better served by having a more temperate conversation about how you collect data, how you preserve it, how you use it responsibly, not this super-charged dialogue. We should get away from the inflammatory wording. You have to tell people what Do Not Track means. Right now, there is no standard definition.

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