Ad company Turn is asking the Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium to scrap its recent privacy proposal.
In a comment posted on Thursday to the W3C’s site, Turn’s general counsel Max Ochoa says the organization should try to “re-engage all stakeholders to define a Do Not Track standard that encourages competition regardless of business model and forthrightly addresses consumers’ expectations of privacy and control.”
Ochoa was responding to the group’s recommendations regarding how companies should respond to do-not-track commands sent by consumers.
The W3C has tentatively said that ad networks and exchanges — but not first parties — should refrain from collecting data from consumers who have activated do-not-track.
The proposed rules allow publishers to collect data at their own sites, but not at sites operated by others. Facebook, for instance, would be able to collect data at Facebook.com — even if users have turned on do-not-track — but wouldn’t be able to gather data about those users via Like buttons installed on other companies’ sites.
Ochoa specifically criticizes W3C’s decision to distinguish between “first parties” and “third parties.” First parties are sites that consumers navigate to, like Amazon or Google. Third parties refer to ad networks and exchanges, like Turn.
He says the W3C should back away from “the anti-competitive distinction between first parties and third parties.”
He also points out that other critics, including three U.S. senators, have raised similar complaints. (The lawmakers also say that do-not-track should be turned on by default — a position that none of the W3C participants currently endorse.)
But other observers say that the distinction between first parties and ad networks makes sense, given that consumers have direct relationships with companies like Amazon.
The privacy advocates, computer scientists and industry representatives that participate in W3C have spent four years trying to figure out standards for interpreting do-not-track headers, which first appeared in 2011. All of the major browser companies now offer users the ability to turn on do-not-track headers. But doing so won’t prevent companies from tracking users.
Instead, the headers send a signal to publishers and ad networks — which are free to honor them or not. Currently, the commands are largely ignored.
While the W3C has struggled to define do-not-track, Web users appear to have taken matters into their own hands with ad blockers. A recent study by Adobe and PageFair (which promises to help publishers “restore blocked ad inventory”) found that 45 million U.S. Web users, representing 15% of U.S. Internet users, now deploy ad-blocking technology.