Who: World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
When: 14 July 2015
Law stated as at: 13 August 2015
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published in July 2015 proposed compliance standards for implementing “do-not-track” requests arising from users’ browser settings.
Browsers like Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox have for some years allowed users to turn on a “Do-Not-Track” (DNT) signal via their browser settings. However, while it’s nearly five years since the US Federal Trade Commission Chairman called for a universal Do-Not-Track system, W3C have not to date managed to establish a standard for how websites and ad networks should behave when dealing with a user who has set the DNT signal.
Further, many have argued that the fact that DNT is set automatically as a default by some browsers means that it is not a valid indicator of the user’s wishes and should be disregarded.
One of the key battlegrounds in the negotiations to finalise the W3C standard seems to have been whether DNT should apply just to re-targeting and cross-site tracking for interest-based advertising, or whether it should also mean data shouldn’t be collected for market research or to improve products.
The proposal in this latest version from the W3C is that the only purposes for which ad networks and other companies should collect data from users with the DNT signal activated would be:
- debugging; and
- frequency capping.
Market research and product improvement are not permitted purposes.
Why this matters:
Websites and ad networks may find that user adoption of privacy tools such as EFF’s Privacy Badger will provide some incentive for them to comply with the W3C standards once these are finalised. Privacy Badger is an app that it is designed to block ads on sites that have not indicated they will honour DNT.
In the meantime, users appear to be taking matters in their own hands with increasing adoption of less selective ad-blocking technologies, which aim to block ads regardless of whether and how they are targeted. Will we start now to see website operators fighting back and blocking or limiting content served to users identified as using ad-blocking tools?
The proposed W3C compliance standards can be found here. It is described as a “Last Call Working Draft”, and interested parties are invited to submit comments by 7 October 2015.