Jonathan Mayer, a Stanford graduate student who has been a highly vocal advocate for consumer privacy, has resigned from the Tracking Protection Working Group, which is charged with setting the browser spec for a "Do Not Track" mechanism.
In an email delivered yesterday afternoon to members of the Working Group, Mayer writes, “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.”
Operating under the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the TPWG, which includes representatives from privacy groups, academics, browser makers and advertisers, has struggled to come to an agreement on what it means when a Web user turns on a Do Not Track signal. Two years after it was formed, the Working Group has little to show for its efforts.
In an earlier conversation with AdExchanger, Mayer expressed his frustration with the TPWG, noting, “Privacy was tantalizing a few years back because it was clear there was a lot of interest on the horizon and an opportunity to provide input…but at this point it seems stuck. The space is sufficiently crowded with enough vested interests that make it difficult for one grad student to make a difference.”
Mayer’s resignation followed a warning from the group’s co-chair, Peter Swire, that there was no chance the group would meet its latest “last call” deadline, which was set for the end of July, and that the group should prepare for further discussions moving forward.
In a separate email, Lee Tien, of the privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, echoed Mayer’s dismay at the group’s failure to meet the July deadline. “We also think that avoiding a "go/no go" decision disserves W3C itself,” Tien writes. “Consensus is not always possible, and there is no shame in recognizing that after prolonged good-faith efforts. “
Before adjourning for one month, the Working Group agreed to resume its discussions in September.
In addition to being a member of the TPWG, Mayer created a cookie-blocking patch for Mozilla’s Firefox browser that is being tested for an upcoming version of the browser. It is uncertain if Mayer’s decision to leave the Working Group will affect his participation at Mozilla.
In moving forward, Jonathan Mayer told AdExchanger that he is “not done with privacy in any way” and will focus on the Cookie Clearinghouse project. The Cookie Clearinghouse is a joint initiative developed by Mozilla and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society that is developing a list of browsers that would be permitted to set cookies on websites and another list of browsers that would be blocked. Mayer is a member of the Clearinghouse’s advisory board.
Read on for Mayer’s entire resignation letter:
Dear Group Leadership, Staff, and Colleagues,
I hereby resign from the Tracking Protection Working Group, effective July 31, 2013.
Last month, I wrote:
We first met to discuss Do Not Track over 2 years ago. We have now held 10 in-person meetings and 78 conference calls. We have exchanged 7,148 emails. And those boggling figures reflect just the official fora.
The group remains at an impasse. We have sharpened issues, and we have made some progress on low-hanging fruit. But we still have not resolved our longstanding key disagreements, including: What information can websites collect, retain, and use? What sorts of user interfaces and defaults are compliant, and can websites ignore noncompliant browsers?
Our Last Call deadline is July 2013. That due date was initially January 2012. Then April 2012. Then June 2012. Then October 2012. We are 18 months behind schedule, with no end in sight.
There must come a stopping point. There must come a time when we agree to disagree. If we cannot reach consensus by next month, I believe we will have arrived at that time.
I plan to continue collaborating in good faith right up until our deadline. I remain committed to Do Not Track as a uniform, persistent, easy-to-use, and effective control over collection of a consumer's browsing history. I believe a consensus Do Not Track standard is the best possible outcome for all stakeholders in the web ecosystem.
We have reached the end of July. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. A glance at our issue tracker confirms scant progress.
On substance: The DAA Proposal reflects a radical perspective on Do Not Track that does little to protect consumer privacy. The June Draft has drawn firm objections from myriad and diverse stakeholders; at least 23 contested issues remain formally open. We are, in many respects, further apart than ever before.
On process: 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. We do not have clear rules of decision. And even if we were to have procedural commitments, they could be unilaterally cast aside at any time. 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.
Best of luck to you all.
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