'Do not track' effort in trouble

A key stakeholder is pulling out of talks to create a “do not track” list similar to the popular do not call lists that prevent telemarketers from calling people at home.

The decision by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) to leave the talks is likely to lead to legislation that would impose a do not track list on Internet companies to prevent them from tacking every click by consumers online.

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Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) had vowed to move forward with legislation if the group failed.

The advertising alliance, which represents online ad companies, said it was pulling out because it saw no way the group of private interests could agree to one standard.

It also lashed out at Peter Swire, the co-chairman of the working group who recently left it to participate in the White House’s review of National Security Agency surveillance programs.

In an email, Lou Mastria, DAA’s managing director, criticized Swire’s rejection of a draft proposal by members of the online advertising industry in June as “dictatorial” in explaining the decision to leave the working group.

The working group has divided between online advertising groups and privacy activists that want strict standards on what online companies can track.

Despite pressure from members of Congress and the Federal Trade Commission, the talks have missed multiple deadlines.

Swire, the second chairman of the talks to leave in the past year, also cast doubt on the group’s ability to move forward.

“My own view is that the Working Group does not have a path to consensus that includes large blocs of stakeholders with views as divergent as the DAA, on the one hand, and those seeking stricter privacy rules, on the other,” he said in an email. “I no longer see any workable path to a standard that will gain active support from both wings of the Working Group."

Rachel Thomas, vice president of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, which represents online ad companies and is a participant in the W3C process, said her group "fully supports" the DAA. She believes the process will not "result in anything more than an academic exercise."

Other advertising groups said they would stay in the group.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) will remain in the group, though its senior vice president Mike Zaneis said it supported the DDA’s decision.

The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) also plans to stay in the working grou.

“The absence of a clear process is particularly disturbing given the gravity of issues being debated within the Working Group and the potential impact on the Internet economy,” said the group's leader, Marc Groman.

Still, NAI believes "that we must remain at the table to ensure that the perspectives of advertising technology companies, small business, and the long tail of the Internet are considered should this process move forward.”

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which supports strong privacy standards, said DAA’s involvement is one of the key reasons the working group has “floundered.”

"If the DAA power brokers — Google, Yahoo, and the ad giants — had really wanted to deliver new privacy protection clout to consumers, our work would have successfully finished a year ago,” Chester said.

But even with the DAA gone, he said the group is unlikely to succeed in creating a "Do Not Tack" standard.

This story was posted at 11:30 a.m. and updated at 1:26 p.m.