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USA: W3C's 'huge milestone' on DNT, moves to Last Call status

The Tracking Protection Working Group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) advanced - on 24 April 2014 - to Last Call status on their Tracking Preference Expression (TPE) specification for Do Not Track (DNT). The progress follows previous rejections of industry-proposed DNT solutions, and the subsequent departure of the Digital Advertising Alliance from the Working Group. The TPE is open for public comment until 18 June 2014.

Justin Brookman, Director for the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT)'s project on consumer privacy, said, "[This is] a huge milestone. Moving to Last Call is a big deal - it means that the Working Group thinks that the specification is complete and ready for review by the larger community."

The TPE aims to enable individuals to express their privacy preferences in a simple, stable, scalable, and flexible browser setting. Mozilla Firefox was the first browser to implement DNT features for users on 8 February 2011, and other browsers have since followed their example. However, as Brookman points out, there was no universal agreement on the meaning of 'tracking' within DNT.

Moving to Last Call is a big deal - it means that the Working Group thinks that the specification is complete and ready for review by the larger community.

"The meaning of the DNT signal is now standardized," said Brookman. "It means you're telling a server that you don't want it to collect data about you across different companies' websites. DNT isn't concerned (for the most part) with first-party data collection - it isn't meant to stop Amazon from remembering what you do on their site, and the New York Times can still count the articles you read on and recommend other articles to you based on that. However, the signal would tell an advertising network that sees you on different sites that you don't want them to collect data about you across those distinct contexts."

The Working Group stated, "Although [TPE] is the foundation specification for users to express privacy preferences online, it is not a complete privacy solution." They are currently working on an accompanying Tracking Compliance and Scope (TCS) specification, which aims to define uses where data can be collected and retained, even when a DNT signal is received.

"Currently, the TCS envisions the collection and retention of data that is reasonably necessary for the online ad ecosystem to function: security and fraud prevention, debugging ad frequency capping (making sure you aren't served the same ad over and over again), billing, and auditing," said Brookman.

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