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Hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee - A Status Update on the Development of Voluntary Do-Not-Track Standards

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

In February 2012, the Digital Advertising Alliance pledged that the online advertising industry would honor Do-Not-Track requests made by consumers. That commitment was supposed to happen by the end of last year, 2012. What that was supposed to mean was that when consumers made it clear they did not want advertisers to collect information about their Internet activities, the advertisers would respect their wishes.

It is now April 2013, and consumers are still waiting for these Do-Not-Track standards. Advertisers are continuing to ignore Do-Not-Track headers and consumers' requests for privacy. I have long expressed skepticism about the ability -- or willingness -- of companies to regulate themselves on behalf of consumers when it affects their bottom line. That's why, for the past two Congresses, I have introduced legislation that would create meaningful Do-Not-Track standards for consumers.
In February 2012, the Digital Advertising Alliance pledged that the online advertising industry would honor Do-Not-Track requests made by consumers. That commitment was supposed to happen by the end of last year, 2012. What that was supposed to mean was that when consumers made it clear they did not want advertisers to collect information about their Internet activities, the advertisers would respect their wishes.

It is now April 2013, and consumers are still waiting for these Do-Not-Track standards. Advertisers are continuing to ignore Do-Not-Track headers and consumers' requests for privacy. I have long expressed skepticism about the ability -- or willingness -- of companies to regulate themselves on behalf of consumers when it affects their bottom line. That's why, for the past two Congresses, I have introduced legislation that would create meaningful Do-Not-Track standards for consumers.

I do not believe that companies with business models based on the collection and monetization of personal information will voluntarily stop those practices if it negatively impacts their profit margins. Having said that, I want to be open-minded today, and I want to hear all sides on this matter.

For months, industry stakeholders, consumer groups, academics, and other interested parties have been in negotiations at the World Wide Web Consortium -- known as the W3C -- attempting to reach an agreement on voluntary Do-Not-Track standards. But conflicting reports about W3C negotiations continue to surface. On one side, I hear that the online advertising industry is deliberately dragging its feet, moving the goal posts, and refusing to stop collection practices that undermine the very essence of a meaningful Do-Not-Track standard. On the other side, I hear that two software developers in particular, Microsoft and Mozilla, have prevented the W3C from forging consensus on voluntary Do-Not-Track standards.

Today, I want to get to the bottom of this controversy. I want the witnesses to publicly explain exactly what they believe has gone wrong, and what they are prepared to offer to make Do-Not-Track a reality for consumers. However, while I want to be fair and hear from all sides, I do not want to hear some of the familiar talking points that serve no purpose but to confuse the debate.

I do not want to hear that Do-Not-Track would jeopardize anti-fraud efforts, cybersecurity, or the Internet itself with a strict prohibition on any collection of information. This is simply not true. Everyone acknowledges that some limited collection of information is necessary in order to fulfill basic functions. My own bill clearly provides for this. Furthermore, I do not want to hear assertions that the current self-regulatory scheme fulfills Do-Not-Track requests.

A meaningful Do-Not-Track standard prohibits the collection of online information, except for a few narrow purposes. Under the current "Ad Choices" campaign operated by the advertising industry, companies continue to collect vast amounts of consumer information and only promise to not use this information for specific purposes, such as targeted advertising.

In addition to my concerns that consumers' choices are not being honored, I am also worried about the escalating rhetoric we have witnessed in the past few months from online advertisers about web browser developers. Browsers are attempting to provide consumers with greater privacy protections and ad networks are resisting these efforts. I am disturbed with the rhetoric from advertisers that suggests they might try to circumvent the sensible privacy protections that Web browsers are providing consumers.

I urge everybody to take a deep breath and tone down the rhetoric. We all need to remember that this debate is about consumers and their choices - consumers who may be happy to have their information collected for targeted advertising in some situations, but who may want advertisers to completely leave them alone at other times.

In this regard, I believe all sides should be prepared to compromise in order to maximize protection for consumers. And I urge all of the witnesses today to spend less time attacking their opponents and spend more time thinking about how we can honor and respect consumers' preferences.

I do not believe that companies with business models based on the collection and monetization of personal information will voluntarily stop those practices if it negatively impacts their profit margins. Having said that, I want to be open-minded today, and I want to hear all sides on this matter.

For months, industry stakeholders, consumer groups, academics, and other interested parties have been in negotiations at the World Wide Web Consortium -- known as the W3C -- attempting to reach an agreement on voluntary Do-Not-Track standards. But conflicting reports about W3C negotiations continue to surface. On one side, I hear that the online advertising industry is deliberately dragging its feet, moving the goal posts, and refusing to stop collection practices that undermine the very essence of a meaningful Do-Not-Track standard. On the other side, I hear that two software developers in particular, Microsoft and Mozilla, have prevented the W3C from forging consensus on voluntary Do-Not-Track standards.

Today, I want to get to the bottom of this controversy. I want the witnesses to publicly explain exactly what they believe has gone wrong, and what they are prepared to offer to make Do-Not-Track a reality for consumers. However, while I want to be fair and hear from all sides, I do not want to hear some of the familiar talking points that serve no purpose but to confuse the debate.

I do not want to hear that Do-Not-Track would jeopardize anti-fraud efforts, cybersecurity, or the Internet itself with a strict prohibition on any collection of information. This is simply not true. Everyone acknowledges that some limited collection of information is necessary in order to fulfill basic functions. My own bill clearly provides for this. Furthermore, I do not want to hear assertions that the current self-regulatory scheme fulfills Do-Not-Track requests.

A meaningful Do-Not-Track standard prohibits the collection of online information, except for a few narrow purposes. Under the current "Ad Choices" campaign operated by the advertising industry, companies continue to collect vast amounts of consumer information and only promise to not use this information for specific purposes, such as targeted advertising.

In addition to my concerns that consumers' choices are not being honored, I am also worried about the escalating rhetoric we have witnessed in the past few months from online advertisers about web browser developers. Browsers are attempting to provide consumers with greater privacy protections and ad networks are resisting these efforts. I am disturbed with the rhetoric from advertisers that suggests they might try to circumvent the sensible privacy protections that Web browsers are providing consumers.

I urge everybody to take a deep breath and tone down the rhetoric. We all need to remember that this debate is about consumers and their choices - consumers who may be happy to have their information collected for targeted advertising in some situations, but who may want advertisers to completely leave them alone at other times.

In this regard, I believe all sides should be prepared to compromise in order to maximize protection for consumers. And I urge all of the witnesses today to spend less time attacking their opponents and spend more time thinking about how we can honor and respect consumers' preferences.


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