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Online ads, BATNAs, and the failure of Do Not Track

(I wrote this article a while back for ClickZ. I’m reposting here because this touches on a few themes that I hope to expand upon in some further posts.)

After more than two years of contentious and often circular wrangling between advertisers, online privacy activists, regulators, software vendors and others, the W3C’s Tracking Protection Working Group suffered a major blow the other week when the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) officially withdrew from participation. The Tracking Protection Working Group has been the leading effort to establish a common industry approach to the “Do Not Track” browser option, which among other things governs how a web user’s browser governs cookie setting. (For more about what browser cookies are, see this Wikipedia article.) After more than 100 group-wide teleconferences, input documents, face-to-face meetings, polls and god knows what else, the working group was never able to define even basic issues, like what fundamental consumer harm was at stake, or what the definition of “tracking” was, let alone get down to substantive issues about, say, a Do Not Track standard.

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