Compromise and consensus

Thu, July 11, 2013

I can't decide which is to blame for the neck pain I've been experiencing lately: watching Wimbledon obsessively or watching the back and forth between parties at the W3C. 

At their last meeting on July 8, members of the W3C's Tracking Protection Working Group met again to hash out issues on DNT. The ad industry, led by Mike Zaneis, laid out another proposal that was met with general hostility from other parties. The proposal basically says it will de-identify users who implement a DNT signal but leaves plenty of giant loopholes to distract participants, enough to ensure the process ultimately fails.

Though I understand the difficulty in coming to compromise (no, I mean I really do: I've been working in the NTIA multi-stakeholder process for almost a year), part of me wonders whether the "experts" assembled in this group are - well - kind of posers. For example, advocates and academics who I truly admire are involved and are clearly passionate about making sure DNT really works for consumers, but I think their tactics are playing right into the hands of the ad industry. Industries that are mostly outside of the advertising world like publishers are essentially sitting back and get a pain in their neck too.

The only entity that wins if the W3C process fails is the advertising industry - and I will congratulate them on a hand well-played considering they don't have any leverage in this fight, they are outnumbered by people in the process who are more inclined to come to meaningful consensus, and they don't represent a public that has basically screamed out "we want to control tracking!"

"We are seeing around 25% of all internet users sending DNT today and that is expected to rise to 50+% over the next year," Zaneis said, as though this was some kind of news flash. Look, most of the players in the industry and in the advocacy world know very well that DNT, or cookie blocking, isn't going away. The public has demanded it and is getting more and more savvy about how ubiquitous online tracking really is.

Standing on laurels, or on bogus proposals that create more problems than they solve, is an ego-centric waste of time. The public isn't thanking you. Compromise and consensus is your job - do it.

— Michelle De Mooy, Consumer Action

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