Remarks of FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz to the Tracking Protection Working Group


Thank you Aleecia and thank you Matthias for all your work in guiding this group.

I'm joined here this morning by Ed Felten our chief technologist, whom you all know and I also want to thank the European Commission for hosting this meeting, particularly Neelie Kroes with whom the FTC has had a long time and always productive collaboration that continues through today. In fact, actually through this morning when we met before she went off to meet with multiple parliaments, she is very, very busy. And I listened to you talk, Carl, about Do Not Track, it just reminded me that sometimes we take slightly different approaches but we very much share the same goals of empowering consumers, ensuring privacy and making sure we strike the right balance.

Thirteen months ago, as Aleecia alluded to, the FTC issued its preliminary staff report on privacy, the final report should be coming out in the very near future (next six weeks or so). It was a long report, probably more than a hundred pages, but the few pages that discussed Do Not Track seemed to resonate the most and to get the most attention. Now, we all recognize, I think, the benefits that can come from responsible tracking, but at the same time users want to have a choice and they deserve to have a choice, especially when it comes to the use of cookies and other similar technologies by third parties to track users across sites. I think the calculus is a little bit different, I know you're thinking about this, when it comes to first party tracking. Giving users choice won't solve all the world's privacy problems to be sure, I think we all understand that, but it will be an important step forward.

Now, we weren't the first to propose a Do Not Track system, but we'd like to think that our report helped to jump start the Do Not Track process. In the weeks and months after our report came out, browser companies rolled out tracking protection features, thank you Mozilla, and the advertising industry dramatically expanded its self-regulatory program, and I saw Mike Zaneis here, thank you Mike. And of course all of you came together under the auspices of the W3C to work out a Do Not Track system that's practical and fair to both consumers and companies.

When a problem like this needs to be addressed, there are several approaches that we can follow. I think going forward no one will follow the SOPA approach. <laughter> If I can't work stuff like this into my talk, I'm just not going to continue. Anyway, there are different approaches you can follow. One approach is for government to lay down rules that everyone has to follow. Sometimes I think that works, I think it's particularly more of a European approach, again as I was listening to Carl this morning it's clear that we do share the same goals. In the US, that's not usually the first choice. We will step in when necessary when Congress gives us the authority. We don't have a lot of rule-making authority and getting that authority from Congress can be very very difficult. But in general we take the approach that stakeholders are in the best position to solve problems.

The second approach is for some in industry to design solutions which can be then be adopted by the broader private sector. And at its best, this approach allows innovative solutions to grow and to compete and sometimes to do so very very quickly. To see which technology best serves the consumers and companies. But the danger I think is that we'll end up with piecemeal systems rather than a broadly-adopted consensus. As you know in the context the advertising industry has moved forward on an opt-out system — Marc — and it's very much to their credit that they've done this. We urge you to work with them to avoid Do Not Track comprising disparate standards just as we encourage them to work with you.

A third approach and an approach that we like enormously is a multi-stakeholder process that invites everyone to the table in open, public and international consensus-building process. And of course that's exactly what's happening here today and over the next few days. It's a way to create a standard that's robust and reasonable for varying types of companies while meeting the needs of consumers to know and control when they're tracked. Perhaps it will even have a role in resolving some of the complexities of the EU data regulation debate, but I'll leave that for that my colleagues in the EU to decide.

To your enormous credit, you have just extraordinarily broad participation from different industry sectors: advertisers, publishers, browser makers, analytics companies, and social networks among others. And you have stakeholders from consumer groups, public interest groups, you bring many perspectives and you come from many countries and really as I look around this room it's entirely clear that you seem to welcome almost every voice.

And I am just so impressed with the progress you've made thus far. Your calendar, your email archives testify to the dedication you have for getting this right. I know there's a lot more left to do and challenging issues to be resolved in standard-setting organizations like this that I've had some involvement with. It's pretty clear that not everybody gets everything that they want but I know that you're here and that you're invested in the outcome because we all share the same belief that an effective Do Not Track system that serves industry and consumers is well within reach. So I look forward to your progress across this meeting, I'm honored that you're letting me attend and sit in this morning. Thank you so much for letting me participate, listen and learn.

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Nick Doty, Privacy <npdoty@w3.org>
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