Senate Committee to Discuss Do Not Track at Key Hearing

The dram surrounding the Do Not Track specification and its implementation by browser manufacturers is set to continue on Thursday when the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to discuss whether the proposed specification is strong enough or has been weakened by the digital advertising industry’s input.

The dram surrounding the Do Not Track specification and its implementation by browser manufacturers is set to continue on Thursday when the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to discuss whether the proposed specification is strong enough or has been weakened by the digital advertising industry’s input.

Do Not Track is a draft W3C specification that defines a method for browsers to tell various Web sites that users do not want to be tracked across the Web by third-party sites or advertisers. Many of the major browser vendors, including Microsoft and Mozilla have implemented the specification, and Microsoft has said that DNT will be turned on by default in Internet Explorer 10, the next major release of its browser. Yahoo also has implemented DNT across its Web sites. 

Do Not Track is seen by privacy advocates and security experts as a nice first step in preventing invasive and pervasive tracking by ad networks and sites. However, many groups feel that the specification could be stronger, and, because it is not yet a full W3C standard, the current default for many ad networks is a set of recommended behaviors created by the Digital Advertising Association, an industry self-regulation body.

“Unfortunately, the “principles” are very weak at protecting users who turn on Do Not Track. If you connect to a first party website like ESPN.com, affiliated companies like Disney.com (ESPN’s parent company is The Walt Disney Company), and completely unrelated data brokers, are still able to obtain large amounts of data about you and your viewing habits. Such low standards would not offer protection against non-consensual collection of people’s reading habits or against companies like Google that have been caughtcircumventing the privacy settings of users. In fact, the DAA principles would be more accurately titled ‘Do Not Target,’ or ‘Pretend Not To Track,’ than ‘Do Not Track’,” Mark M. Jaycox of the EFF, said in a blog post.

“EFF is adamant about creating a Do Not Track standard that favors user choice and protects user privacy. This is even more important when users are clear that they dislike online behavioral advertising.”

The Senate Commerce Committee hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday will comprise a single panel of witnesses, including Alex Fowler from Mozilla, Bob Liodice, the CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State, and Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, a non-profit tech think tank.

“In our prior hearing on consumer privacy, both the Obama Administration and the FTC commended recent industry efforts to provide consumers with more privacy protections,” said Commerce Committee John D. Chairman Rockefeller.  “However, their reports also stated that industry can do more and that federal legislation is necessary.  In this follow-up hearing, I intend to closely examine how industry intends to fulfill its recent pledge to not collect consumers’ personal information when they utilize the self-regulatory ad icon or make ‘do-not-track’ requests in their web browsers.”

The Senate hearing will be webcast from the Commerce Committee site

Homepage image via laszlo-photo‘s Flickr photostream, Creative Commons.

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