Gloves Come Off in Do Not Track Battle

For several years now, the online ad industry, internet browser suppliers and others have engaged in a debate over the appropriate standards for a “Do Not Track” protocol.  The Digital Advertising Alliance, has established a self-regulatory program to enable consumers to opt-out of tracking with participating companies.  The stumbling point in the debate with browser companies such as Microsoft and Mozilla is whether “Do Not Track” should be a default setting or one set by the consumer.

In April, new FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez stunned the ad industry in an address to the American Advertising Foundation that stressed that “consumers still await an effective and functioning Do Not Track system, which is now long overdue”.  Ramirez believed steps taken to date were insufficient as consumers needed a “persistent Do Not Track mechanism that would apply across industry to all types of tracking … and allow consumers to stop the collection of nearly all behavioral data gathered across sites and not just the serving of targeted ads.”

In June, the DAA released the following survey results at its first ever summit featuring over 100 companies:

  •  92 percent of Americans think free content like news, weather and blogs is important to the overall value of the Internet (64 percent extremely important, 28 percent somewhat important)
  •  75 percent prefer ad supported content to paying for ad-free content
  • 68 percent prefer to get at least some ads Internet directed at their interests
  • 40 percent prefer to get all their ads directed to their interests
  • 75 percent say they should be able to choose the ads they want to see as opposed to 11 percent who believe browser companies should, and 4 percent who say government should

While the W3C has set a deadline of the end of July to resolve its impasse, Jonathan Mayer a privacy activist  connected to Mozilla has begun to take a hawkish approach suggesting that the parties agree to disagree.  Along those lines, Mozilla has announced the launch of a Cookie Clearinghouse that , in connection with Stanford University, would create a cookie blacklist and enable browsers to block almost all third party cookies.  Currently only about 10 percent of Mozilla users have implemented do not track.  As explained by its leader Aleecia McDonald,

The hope for the Cookie Clearinghouse is to have a situation where advertising continues, but some of the tracking is limited for users who wish it to be. There’s still plenty of ways for users to make money online but the idea of surveillance sales is probably going to have to be replaced with permission marketing.

Interactive Advertising Bureau General Counsel has called the proposed clearinghouse “a nuclear first strike against advertisers, while President Randall Rothenberg has blasted the clearinghouse as

neither new nor a proposal, inasmuch as the no. 2 browser-maker seems hell-bent on implementing on a tight deadline cookie-blocking by fiat. It is not a clearinghouse for cookies – it is a kangaroo cookie court, an arbitrary group determining who can do business with whom.  It replaces the principle of consumer choice with an arrogant “Mozilla knows best” system. It is not “independent,” as Mozilla claims, but is stocked with self-interested academic elites with whom Mozilla has long histories. 

Rothenberg explained that Mozilla was
part of a global distribution cartel whose members have been in a perpetual state of war with each other for 15 years. Browser makers should not be dictating the kind of economic and cultural policies Mozilla is trying to implement any more than television set manufacturers should be deciding which shows make it to your home.
He had even stronger words for Mayer:
He’s not a rational player, does not believe in consensus processes, doesn’t believe in the idea of consensus itself. He is more … What would you call him? He’s a Bolshevik of the Internet world. He’s a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. To have a so-called cookie clearinghouse, a Star Chamber court of people like Aleecia McDonald and Jonathan Mayer, it’s not just a nonstarter, it’s actually appalling.

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2 thoughts on “Gloves Come Off in Do Not Track Battle

  1. Pingback: » Tweet Mozilla Today – Don’t Censor the Web!

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