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Avoiding the Do-Not-Track Arms Race

There has been a lot of concern about the failure of the W3C to finish creating a do-not-track (DNT) standard.  Some worry that if this takes too long, we may see a proliferation of different and competing DNT systems which make compliance difficult if not impracticable.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards organization for the web, has been working on creating a DNT standard for several months and many are growing impatient.

At a Senate hearing today, Chairman Rockefeller blasted the W3C for taking too long, Sen. McCaskill worried about giving internet policy authority to this organization, and the panelists expressed their frustration at problems with the process.

Perhaps, the W3C should focus on what it does best, create technological standards and leave the policy decisions to others.

But as I look at it, the W3C was asked to do more than they should have.

They were asked to not only develop the technical standards for DNT but also to make the policy decision for how it is implemented.

In the past the W3C has created standards for CSS, HTML, and XML to name a few. These are all technical standards and do not carry policy principles with them.

Perhaps, the W3C should focus on what it does best, create technological standards and leave the policy decisions to others.

What would this mean? Well rather than bogging down the W3C process with setting the default for DNT, it can instead create a standard web-browser header that indicates the DNT preferences of the user.

If we require the W3C to not only create consensus on the DNT technical standard (no small feat), but also a policy decision, the process may take quite some time.  We should instead let the W3C focus on the technical standards and let companies and consumers deal with the policy implications of DNT.

In doing so, the W3C can finalize this standard, we can avoid the DNT arms-race, and consumers can better express their privacy preferences.