Advertisers to FTC: We’re Not Going Back on ‘Do Not Track’

DAA says its giving consumers choice now

Advertisers are dismissing charges that they are somehow backing off their commitment made last February to honor a uniform browser feature that would give consumers the choice to opt-out of ad tracking on the Internet.

The accusation was reported by The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, which quoted FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz that advertisers were exploiting a loophole in the definition of “Do Not Track” to allow tracking for market research and product development.

But nothing could be further from the truth, shot back Stu Ingis, a partner with Venable, who represents the Digital Advertising Alliance. “It’s utter nonsense,” he told Adweek.

So exactly what did the advertising community agree to when it stood shoulder to shoulder on the podium during the release of the FTC’s final privacy report with Leibowitz and other White House administration officials?

Here’s Ingis’ statement from that press conference:

“Today the DAA announced that it would immediately begin work to add browser-based header signals to the set of tools by which consumers can express their preferences under the DAA Principles. The DAA expects that such functionality will be implemented within nine months.

The DAA standard and corresponding enforcement of the standard will be applied where a consumer: (1) has been provided language that describes to consumers the effect of exercising such choice including that some data may still be collected and (2) has affirmatively chosen to exercise a uniform choice with the browser-based tool. The DAA standard will not apply in instances where (1) and (2) do not occur or where any entity or software or technology provider other than the user exercises such a choice.”

“We agreed then to a browser-based consumer choice mechanism. Nothing has changed,” Ingis said.

Confusing the issue has been the actions (or inactions) of the browser companies, which have yet to agree on a consistent tool. It didn’t help that Microsoft decided to roll out a Do Not Track browser feature that would be “on” by default, directly running contrary to the rest of the industry.

“We articulated, and the FTC chairman has also articulated, that the default has to be off in order to provide a clear explanation for the consumer, and choice,” Ingis said. “Microsoft abused the process.”

What about the other browser companies? Mozilla’s feature is called Do Not Track, inferring that all data wouldn’t be tracked. Google has promised to roll out a new version that supposedly honors the advertisers agreement. Apple hasn’t made a move.

“So it’s not the ad industry. We honor choice today,” Ingis said, referring to the DAA’s ad choices program, which serves up an icon on Internet ads that allows consumers to opt-out of them.

Related to the controversy over what Do Not Track actually means, the DAA sent a letter to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which sets technical standards for the Internet. The organization has also been trying to hammer out a standard for a Do Not Track option, but the DAA has pushed back on the process, arguing that the W3C should not be setting policy.

“The TPWG [Tracking Protection Working Group] should remain true to the W3C’s mission of developing consensus around specifications for Web technologies and should not seek to expand its scope into public policy issues that would be better addressed in other policy forums that have the experience and qualifications to evaluate these issues. … We ask that the W3C leave these areas to the established industry and policy bodies that have already been successfully addressing them,” wrote Lou Mastria, managing director of the DAA.

Calls to the FTC to clarify chairman Leibowitz’s comments were not immediately returned.