The advertising industry faced harsh criticism at a hearing held by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.). He addressed the implementation of a federal Do Not Track program and asked, “What exactly is the holdup?”
Hosted by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the hearing was intended to ascertain the status of DNT standards. Lou Mastria of the Digital Advertising Alliance explained to the assembled legislators that despite no formal DNT system, the industry’s self-regulatory program has provided consumers with meaningful information and the ability to opt out of behavioral advertising.
Mastria also suggested that Microsoft and Mozilla have stalled the DNT process by making changes to their browsers without discussions with the ad industry. Last year Microsoft announced that the tenth version of Internet Explorer would default to DNT, while earlier this year Mozilla said it would begin automatically blocking third-party cookies.
But Sen. Rockefeller – who reintroduced a DNT bill earlier this year – was not convinced. “I do not want to hear assertions that the current self-regulatory scheme fulfills Do Not Track requests,” he told Mastria. “Advertising folks are continuing to ignore Do-Not-Track headers,” Sen. Rockefeller added. “There’s a broad feeling that the advertisers and data brokers are just dragging their feet. I believe that they are. And I believe they’re doing it purposely.”
Even the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) received some of the lawmaker’s wrath. A working group created by the organization reached an impasse last fall in its efforts to define DNT and what features the program should include. While both the Federal Trade Commission and the White House have indicated that the W3C is an appropriate forum to determine such matters, Sen. Rockefeller said the group “has no authority whatsoever.”
The answer, at least according to Sen. Rockefeller, is federal legislation. “I do not believe that companies with business models based on the collection and monetization of personal information will voluntarily stop those practices if it negatively impacts their profit margins.”
Why it matters: While the hearing reiterated Sen. Rockefeller’s support for federal regulation of DNT, whether his bill has enough backing for passage remains uncertain. One person in Sen. Rockefeller’s corner is new FTC Chairperson Edith Ramirez, who in a recent speech before the American Advertising Foundation praised Microsoft’s and Mozilla’s browser moves and said a functional DNT system is “long overdue.”