Summary:

After two years of go-nowhere discussions over the creation of a Do Not Track policy for online advertising, a leading privacy advocate gave up on the process.

Jonathan Mayer is a Stanford graduate student best known for revealing last year that Google had hacked privacy settings in order to place advertising on Apple’s iPhone. Since then, he was been part of a big-tent working group that brought activists and ad industry people together to develop a ‘Do Not Track’ standard for the internet.

This week, Mayer resigned in exasperation after concluding that 10 in-person meetings and 78 conference calls over nearly two years had achieved precisely nothing. In his good-bye email, he wrote:

“We do not have a credible timetable—and we’ve just adjourned for a month. We do not have a definitive base text. We do not have straightforward guidelines on what amendments are allowed… This is not process: this is the absence of process. Given the lack of a viable path to consensus, I can no longer justify the substantial time, travel, and effort associated with continuing in the Working Group.”

The slow process described by Mayer can be seen as a tactical victory for digital advertising industry groups, which oppose efforts to limit the data collection that fuels their business. The industry has argued that self-regulation is the best approach, and is promoting tools like “Ad Choices” which is identified by a blue triangle and lets consumers control the advertising cookies placed on their browsers. Such tools, however, are likely beyond the sophistication of many internet users.

The “Do Not Track” controversy raises familiar questions about whether handing over browser data is a fair price to pay for a wide variety of internet services that are basically free. Ad industry often complain privately about “privacy alarmists” and having to navigate a regulate environment in which most consumers — and even many in Congress — don’t appear to have a firm understanding of how ad technology actually works. Meanwhile, Mayer and other groups’ focus on browser cookies may become less relevant as advertisers turn to non-cookie methods of collecting data.

AdExchanger has more on the Mayer resignation here.

(Image by Alice Day via Shutterstock)

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