Do Not Track Framework Doc Stirs Controversy Ahead of W3C Meeting

Document was not a DAA proposal, W3C co-chair explains

A document distributed to members of the international group trying to come up with a Do Not Track standard is causing a lot of fuss, dividing meeting attendees even before they meet in California next week—rendering the meeting practically moot.

The "Draft Framework for DNT Discussions Leading Up to Face-to-Face" was distributed Monday during a conference call to members of the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) tracking protection working group, which is meeting May 6-8.

Established two years ago, the group has had little success in coming up with a voluntary Do Not Track standard that all the stakeholders, from privacy hawks to the ad industry, can buy into. The lack of consensus was one of the reasons Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) held a hearing last week to try and find out what the hold up was.

The document, which was put forth as a "framework," drew immediate fire from privacy groups, which labeled it a "proposal" from the Digital Advertising Alliance. In the document, Do Not Track would be "off," not "on" by default like Microsoft's Do Not Track browser. (DAA advocates that Do Not Track be "off" by default.)

"Here's the new Do Not Track deal from the online advertising industry. Neither new nor a deal," tweeted Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student at Stanford University and member of the tracking protection working group, during Monday's conference call. Mayer has made a name for himself as an unapologetic privacy hawk.

Mayer's tweet put the privacy groups on alert, the DAA on the defensive, and Peter Swire, co-chair of the W3C's tracking protection working group, trying to run interference.

"As the name states, it is a framework for discussion, to help frame a possible agenda for next week's face-to-face meeting in California," explained Swire.

While Stu Ingis, the DAA's attorney and a partner at Venable, was the primary presenter of the document, it was not a DAA proposal, Swire explained. "The document resulted from calls and input from the DAA and also from a number of consumer groups, browsers, and other W3C stakeholders," he said.

"This was spun as a DAA proposal, when it really isn't," Ingis said. "It's hard for stuff to happen if there's no agenda. Swire was pushing for a structure. There are a lot of cats to herd."