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Are Do Not Track Browser Options and Industry Self Regulation Programs Compatible?

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On Tuesday, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) attended the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee 'Do Not Track' event. The event was well attended with approximately 70-80 people in the room, including Rep. Goodlatte, congressional staffers, companies, trade groups and advocates. The discussion ranged from the FTC's call for a Do Not Track mechanism in their privacy report to the advertising industry's current efforts at self-regulation and whether or not Do Not Track could fit in with those efforts.

Our view is that whether or not you support legislation, the success of the industry self-regulation program is vital. What credibility will any industry effort in this area have if one that has received so much focus doesn't succeed? Although we can see room for improvements, the icon represents a sea change in thinking about communication with users as it begins to move the data use conversation from the legalese of privacy policies to the web site home page. We are proud of the role FPF research played and the funding we provided to help further the concept of notice in this manner. And we plan to test and monitor how well it is working over the next year. We believe that every company involved in behavioral advertising should be displaying the icon and following the opt-out rules. We think the icon cannot succeed unless substantial efforts are now put behind educating users about what it means. The main conclusion of our icon research was not that icons are a panacea, but rather that some symbols worked better than others, and that with the icon plus a few words of more information, users "got" the concept. The research also made it clear that an aggressive education program would be needed to turn the symbol into a brand that could carry a message to users. The implementation has been bumpy and slower than many had hoped, but trillions of ad impressions have now carried this symbol and the roll-out continues to expand. All the leading networks and portals are on board, as are all the leading advertisers - so for those who aren't - don't wait any longer! And to others - don't do business with anyone who won't meet their own trade groups self-regulatory standards.

We also think that Do Not Track will turn out to be an extremely useful complement to the industry program. The current cookie based opt-out system needs improvement. Opt-out scripts routinely fail, opt-out cookies get inadvertently deleted, opt-out cookies aren't an option for browsers that don't support cookies and where tracking is done with other identifiers and so on. The Do Not Track header can be integrated with the industry program to be used as an alternative opt-out path and the industry program can provide needed compliance verification that companies are responding to the header. We look forward to discussing some of these options at this upcoming IAPP webinar and at the W3C Do Not Track program later this month. And we are pleased to learn that the trade groups are beginning to consider the ways the icon program and Do Not Track can interrelate.

We understand that calls by the FTC and advocates to define Do Not Track far more widely than simply turning off behavioral advertising are concerning to businesses. And although the browser companies have been extremely cooperative in discussing options with all comers, they clearly are open to options that are broader than simply defining Do Not Track as Do Not Target. But praying that the issue would go away and that the FTC and the Hill would drop the idea, stopped being an option when the browsers launched these features. We have been deeply engaged in discussions with all the stakeholders because we think it is critical that Do Not Track is defined in a manner that allows the ad ecosystem to continue to support analytics, ad reporting and personalization, AND that meaningfully advances consumer control.

Jules Polonetsky and Christopher Wolf are Co-Chairs of the Future of Privacy Forum.

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