File Under: privacy, Web Standards

New W3C Co-Chair Steps Into the ‘Do Not Track’ Fray

Image: Footprints by Kimba Howard/Flickr

The W3C, the standards body charged with overseeing the development of HTML and other web standards, has announced a new co-chair for the group that’s hard at work creating the Do Not Track (DNT) privacy standard.

Peter Swire will now co-chair the Tracking Protection Working Group alongside Intel’s Matthias Schunter.

The Do Not Track header is a proposed web standard for browsers to tell servers that the user does not want to be tracked by advertisers.

This isn’t Swire’s first foray into the controversial waters of the Do Not Track standard. The Ohio State law professor previously testified about DNT before the U.S. Senate and has been critical of the advertising industry’s attempts to derail DNT.

“I personally would not like to have an internet where I believed that each moment of my browsing might easily be breached and shown to the entire world,” Swire testified to the Senate. He also called out the Digital Advertising Alliance’s proposed exceptions for “market research or product development,” as “so open-ended that I have not been able to discern any limits on collection under them.”

While Swire has a good track record supporting user privacy, he clearly has his work cut out for him. All the major web browsers now support Do Not Track, but some of the biggest advertisers on the web — notably Google — are not, thus far, paying any attention to users that actually broadcast a DNT signal as they browse.

Swire’s new job will be a potentially Herculean task — to get advertisers to actually comply with the DNT header. (Co-chair Schunter is in charge of the specification.) As I’ve written before, asking advertisers not to set tracking cookies is like asking Cookie Monster not to eat them.

Microsoft recently further muddied the DNT waters by shipping IE 10 with DNT effectively enabled by default. Critics argue that having DNT on by default means it’s no longer a user-controlled setting and does not comply with the intent of the standard — which is to make DNT something users explicitly opt into. The Apache web server and Yahoo have both already announced they plan to ignore DNT when it comes from IE 10.