Do Not Track seems to be a promise that is hard to keep for privacy advocates. After almost a year of discussions and wrangling, digital advertisers, the Obama administration, browser makers, as well as privacy advocates are nowhere near the objective of creating a “Do Not Track” system for web browsing. The entire idea is even hardly breathing at the moment. All the parties involved in the negotiation have all agreed in principle to realize the idea although progress is yet to be seen. They have been brainstorming every Wednesday since the idea was hatched, trying to reach an agreement amenable to all.
Months later, Do Not Track is still but remains a concept yet to be realized as various parties could not agree on what “tracking” means and encompasses. The advertisers argue to keep the current model of targeted advertising, tailoring ads to user’s activity and pattern. The other side saw privacy advocates and the Obama administration campaigning for the idea that users should have an easy option to opt out of the proposed business model by the advertising agency.
Pro privacy groups accuse the advertisers of stalling the negotiation process.
Stanford-based Jonathan Mayer, a Do Not Track technology developer involved in the process, said: “The advertisers have been extraordinarily obstructionist, raising the same issues over and over again, forcing new issues that were not on the agenda, adding new issues that have been closed, and launching personal attacks. We have made, maybe, inches of progress,” he said. “This continues to be a stalemate.”
The opposite accused privacy campaigners of trying to impose overly restrictive rules that could threaten the online advertising business.
“We have a real concern about using a sledgehammer for a flyswatter problem. Do Not Track will have a disproportionate effect on our stakeholders,” said Marc Groman, the executive director of the National Advertising Initiative, a group of online advertisers fighting against privacy supporters.
In between the warring factions is the World Wide Web Consortium, also known as W3C. As the debate continues to drag on to a stalemate, W3C hired to become the group’s new chair, Ohio State University law professor Peter Swire. He is in capable of defusing the situation as he also served as a former privacy official for both Clinton and Obama administrations.
W3C is looking forward to Swire’s ability to come up with consensus from various interested parties. At the moment, most of the popular browsers have Do Not Track option but it serves no function as there is still no agreement how it should work. The initial plan of the group to come up with a Do Not Track button by the end of the year looks almost impossible to achieve at this time.
One of the big problems obstructing any significant progress is the massive number of stakeholders with their interests. For example, smaller advertisers think that Do Not Track works in favor of big companies like Yahoo, AOL, and Google, due to a large network that each of them own.
Another hindrance happened when Microsoft decided to make Do Not Track option on by default in its latest Internet Explorer browser.
“Why is this taking so long? Because people don’t want to budge,” quipped Ian Jacobs, the W3C spokesman. “It’s like a budget deficit committee meeting.”
The consortium aims to break the stalemate and get a consensus.