Yesterday, the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group released the first public working drafts of a proposed “Do Not Track” (DNT) standard. According to the W3C’s press release, the group seeks to find the appropriate balance to “address both the privacy concerns of users and regulators, and the business models of the Web, which today rely heavily on advertising revenue.”
The Working Group released two documents for related standards: The “Tracking Preference Expression” standard and The “Tracking Compliance and Scope Specification.” The Tracking Preferences Expression standards would enable users to verify whether or not the user has a preference to allow tracking of the user’s online activity, as well as a way to decipher whether the website will honor the user’s preferences. The Tracking Compliance and Scope Specification aims to provide websites with practices to comply with a DNT preference.
These documents are still in the very early stages of development and there are many issues that the group must work through before a consensus is reached, such as defining “tracking” for the purposes of the standards. Some early consensus agreements however, do seem to be emerging around the idea that the DNT focus is primarily on third party tracking. (Although the bounds of what it means to be a “first party” and whether a first party has any obligations are still being debated).
FPF is a member of the W3C multi-stakeholder group with a range of people from companies such as Adobe, Apple, Deutsche Telekom AG, Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera, Stanford University, The Center of Democracy and Technology, The Nielsen Company, TRUSTe, W3C, and Yahoo!. Also participating as invited experts, are representatives from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Consumer Watchdog, the German Independent Center for Privacy Protection (ULD), and Leiden University. “We are confident that this multi-stakeholder group has gathered the key participants who can ensure that a DNT standard advances individual privacy in a technical and business practical manner,” said FPF’s Jules Polonetsky in support of the release. The final standards will be released in mid-2012.
Mozilla recently reported that over a two-month span (September and October 2011), 5.6% of users have turned on DNT on their Firefox web browsers while 17.1% of users have turned on DNT on their Firefox mobile browsers. Mozilla has also indicated that it will not enable DNT by default. For a list of companies that already respect the DNT header, see http://donottrack.us/implementations.