Report from Bellevue: meaningful advances on Do Not Track

As we mentioned last week, the difficult and at times controversial discussion of Do Not Track standardization continued with a three-day meeting of the Tracking Protection Working Group in Bellevue, Washington; thanks again to our hosts and sponsors (Fb, G, Y!)! I want to report briefly on the course of discussion and the progress made.

We started the first day with widespread shared agreement on the value of a consensus standard from this group. Participants see clear advantages to an international W3C standard in contrast to varying legislative proposals, an “arms race” of conflicting technical mechanisms and a lack of unified or easy-to-use privacy tools. As a cooperative protocol, Do Not Track provides benefits to all stakeholders. Our first afternoon also gave the group a good understanding of two recently updated proposals with meaningful advances provided by industry participants and consumer advocates. We all can see that these proposals require tough choices and their authors deserve the group’s appreciation. While neither proposal is likely to be adopted in whole, understanding the differences helps the entire Working Group to see the few key areas of disagreement.

On the second day, we got into the hard work of finding a way to bridge remaining differences, which we know won’t be easy. Smaller breakout groups took on proposals around the different possible permitted business uses, exceptions that would allow for some collection or use of data even with a user’s Do Not Track expression. As I see it, the scope of these permitted uses (which might include: fraud prevention, financial auditing and market research) remains the largest issue without a common understanding among the Working Group. I was heartened to see, for just one example, a proposal on limited frequency capping that would mitigate privacy risks while supporting a common business practice.

Finally, in just a few hours for our third day, the group continued to solidify the technical protocol specification, narrowing the details necessary in server-side responses and divvying up the drafting process for the remaining issues.

This marks progress from the TPWG and we thank the participants for a productive atmosphere, even over contentious questions. We believe the cooperative design of the Do Not Track user choice tool will succeed exactly because a diverse group has collaborated to develop the standard. Work and discussion continues: teleconferences resume this week and the Working Group is planning for its next face-to-face meeting, likely in September.

We’ll publish minutes for all three meeting days next week. — Nick