After four years of effort—and controversy—the World Wide Web Consortium published a tentative standard for the implementation of Do Not Track requests that users can send through their browsers.
"Do Not Track is designed to provide users with a simple mechanism to express a preference to allow or limit online tracking," according to the Last Call Working Draft on Tracking Compliance and Scope. "Complying with the user's preference as described in this document includes limits on the collection, retention and use of data collected as a third party to user actions and the sharing of data not permanently de-identified."
Pursuant to the Working Draft, ad networks would stop using and collecting data from consumers who have turned on the DNT request, with limited exceptions for auditing, security, debugging, and frequency capping. Other purposes—such as market research or product improvement—were excluded from the list of exceptions despite a push by ad industry members of the W3C's Tracking Protection Working Group.
The proposal would apply to cross-site tracking, retargeting, interest-based advertising, and the collection of data from outside publishers (how Facebook gets information when a user hits the "Like" button on a third-party website, for example).
Currently, all the major browser companies offer a DNT setting. When a consumer elects to opt out, publishers and ad networks receive a notice about the choice but can decide not to comply. Under the W3C's standard, ad networks and publishers must respond with a signal stating whether or not they comply with the standard.
The Working Draft will be open for public comment until October 7.
The proposal signals major progress by the Working Group, which has struggled mightily over the last few years to reach an agreement on a DNT standard. Stakeholders ranging from members of the ad industry to privacy advocates were unable to achieve consensus, with the leadership of the Working Group changing multiple times. In 2013, several members of the Working Group left, frustrated at the lack of progress after the deadline passed to establish a DNT standard with no agreement.
To read the Last Call Working Draft on Tracking Compliance and Scope, click here.
Why it matters: The Working Draft demonstrates significant progress from the W3C Working Group, and interested stakeholders should weigh in on the proposed standard during the three-month comment period.