recommended reading

Ex-White House official aims to get 'do not track' back on track

Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock.com

Few can accuse Peter Swire of backing away from a challenge. The Ohio State law professor has agreed to take on a job that might be as hard as trying to mediate the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

Swire was picked last week to take over as cochairman of a working group created last year by the World Wide Web Consortium to come up with a standard for responding to consumers online tracking choices. He was tapped after Aleecia McDonald, director of privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, stepped down from the post.

Privacy advocates and the Federal Trade Commission have championed the idea of providing consumers with a way to opt out of being followed as they surf the Web. Advertisers and others use tracking information to help target ads to consumers based on their interests.

Swire, who will cochair the do-not-track working group along with Intel’s Matthias Schunter, has a long record of experience in following online-privacy issues. He served as privacy adviser to President Clinton and as a special assistant on President Obama’s National Economic Council from 2009-2010.

Despite this, he faces a tough task. The group has hit a logjam reflecting fundamental differences in how far the W3C should go in determining how websites should respond when they encounter a consumer’s do-not-track choice.

“My first job is to be a good listener,” Swire said in an interview on Tuesday. “There are many different stakeholders. There are quite a few difficult issues but [the goal is] also worth achieving.”

He said given the W3C’s expertise and track record in setting standards for the Web, “creating a header that works globally would be a significant achievement.”

Among his first moves in his new role was to seek comment this week from all the stakeholders about what the group’s priorities should be going forward and areas where they might find agreement.

The working group includes a range of stakeholders, including privacy advocates, advertising and marketing officials, and representatives from Internet browser makers like Google and Mozilla. Most of the browser companies have responded to calls to include a do-not-call option in their browsers.

A coalition of advertising and marketing industry groups including the Digital Advertising Alliance, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the Direct Marketing Association said that the do-not-track working group should focus more narrowly on developing a technical standard rather than trying to define policy. The “widening of scope beyond a technical specification that defines ‘a simple machine-readable preference-expression mechanism’ has caused the working group's mandate to grow out of hand, and for progress to come to a virtual halt,” the groups said in their comments to Swire.

Mike Zaneis, IAB senior vice president and general counsel, said the working group has yet to make any progress, noting that it hasn't even agreed on basic issues such as the definition of tracking. While he said a “fresh perspective can help, my caveat is that … we’ve been bogged down because the issues are so complex and so critical and nothing about new leadership for the working group will change those facts.”

Privacy advocates agree about the difficult task ahead but had a different view on how to move forward. “Swire’s job is to negotiate the release of do not track while it’s being held up at gunpoint by most of the online-marketing industry,” Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeff Chester quipped. His group and other privacy advocates want the W3C to develop a much more robust standard than called for by ad-industry officials.

Deciding how technically to send a message without spelling out what the obligations are for the server that receives the message would produce a meaningless specification,” Consumer Watchdog’s John Simpson wrote in his comments.

(Image via Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock.com)

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.