This post was written by Cynthia O’Donoghue.
Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, has signalled her concern over the progress of the adoption of the Do-Not-Track (DNT) standard, which is being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as a universal mechanism to communicate relevant consent or lack of consent to the tracking of individuals’ web data. The mechanism is already present in certain browsers, including Microsoft and Mozilla; however, the lack of a commonly agreed-upon standard is causing dispute, with increasingly broad exceptions being suggested to the W3C, which Jon Leibowitz, the Federal Trade Commission’s Chairman, labelled ‘a loophole you could drive a virtual truck through’.
Delay and frustration of the process have mostly been attributed to advertisers and marketers, many of whom are insisting that marketing is one of the most important freedoms of a civilised society, and that the DNT will harm their business operations. Indeed the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has asked the W3C that marketing be added to the list of those activities exempt from the standard, which has drawn much condemnation from the Commissioner.
This ‘watering down’ of the standard is the main problem according to Kroes, who would prefer that DNT build on the principle of informed consent, giving consumers control over their information and letting them choose not to be tracked. Kroes addresses the current issues over default settings, stating that DNT should be specific in informing consumers about which default settings are in their software and devices. Anonymisation and retention limits should be incorporated to mitigate, but cannot be seen as a ‘get-out clause’.
Kroes criticised the current DNT standard, declaring that it will not, on its own, guarantee satisfying cookie requirements under the ePrivacy Directive, but did emphasis the value of DNT in harmonising online business and transparency to consumers.
Kroes warned that time is running out to create a simple, uniform and self-regulatory standard to address tracking. She views harmonised DNT standards as having universal appeal. "When I say this is in everyone’s interest, I mean everyone. Including American companies. Because if you want to track Europeans, you have to play by our rules."