"Do Not Track" standards for the Web: The work is starting.

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by Nick Doty and Thomas Roessler.

Since we published the Web Tracking Protection member submission in February, and since the Workshop on Web tracking and User Privacy in late April, the conversation about Do Not Track has come a long way. Today, we have announced the creation of the Tracking Protection Working Group. The group meets 21-22 September and has an ambitious timeline of publishing standards by mid 2012.

The challenge before the group is clear: As an industry, we need to address privacy concerns and the regulators' challenges. Our task here is to deliver a set of standards that enables individuals to express their preferences and choices about online tracking, and enables transparency concerning online tracking activities for users and the public alike. Mechanisms that enable the enforcement of these preferences will be another important element of the work. At the same time, many business models on the Web as we know it rely heavily on advertising revenue.

By tracking users’ behavior online, online publishers and advertisers are able to deliver more relevant, individually-tailored offers — more effective advertising. But advertisers’ ability to track users across the Web, combined with a lack of transparency and user choice about these practices, has raised public concerns and caused regulators from both the European Union and the United States to call for industry to establish a Do Not Track standard on an expedited basis.

Earlier this year both Mozilla and Microsoft proposed technical solutions in this space. Together with guidelines and recommendations from organizations including the US Federal Trade Commission and Internet advertising associations, these proposals will provide the basis for the group's work.

"The W3C's action here can help protect consumers from unwanted tracking. Microsoft welcomes the opportunity to work with the industry and governments on a web standard based on our earlier work."
- Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Internet Explorer

A critical element of the group's success will be broad-based participation: we look forward to having browser vendors, search engines, advertising networks, regulators, civil society actors, and many other interested parties involved in the work that we'll do.

The group will be led collaboratively by a pair of industry-sponsored co-chairs, one from Europe, one from the US. Today, I'm particularly pleased to introduce the first of the two (while we work hard to on-board the other one, whose name we can't quite announce yet): Aleecia M. McDonald. One of the leading academic experts in the field, Aleecia recently joined Mozilla as Senior Privacy Researcher.

"Mozilla's work with Do Not Track aligns well with our non-profit mission and commitment to technologies that advance user choice online," said Aleecia M. McDonald, Senior Privacy Researcher at Mozilla. "As co-chair of the Tracking Protection Working Group, I look forward to working with W3C members on standardizing Do Not Track and Tracking Protection Lists. These technologies present fantastic opportunities to improve transparency, to provide meaningful and useful privacy tools for users, and to enhance the trust relationships online that are so vital to commerce and advertising."

Work is starting now, with an initial conference call on the 14th and a kickoff meeting on the 21st and 22nd. For instructions to join the group, please refer to the Tracking Protection Working Group Home Page.

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