‘Do Not Track’ Internet privacy initiative struggles to keep momentum

by Craig Timberg, Washington Post  |  published on November 28, 2012

The two-year-old drive to give consumers a simple way to block companies from tracking their behavior as they move across the Internet has faltered, say participants in the process who are struggling to reconcile privacy concerns with an advertising model that pays for many free Internet services.

The friction puts in peril the “Do Not Track” initiative that appeared to have widespread support at a White House event in February, when industry officials endorsed it in concept. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who also embraced the idea as central to the independent agency’s push for protecting personal data privacy, had predicted a deal by the end of the year.

But meetings of a key working committee have turned acrimonious in recent months, and a co-chair of the effort plans to step down Wednesday. Participants now say a deal remains months away, and some say it may take federal action to limit Internet tracking.

“This thing has stalled, and there has been deliberate obstructionism by some segments of the advertising industry, and there is great frustration because of this,” said John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, one of several privacy advocates working on the issue.

The idea for a Do Not Track system was inspired by the popular “do not call” lists that have curtailed telemarketing calls, but there have been sharp disagreements about how to build a system that limits tracking without undermining advertising revenue.

Industry groups voluntarily adopted a version last year giving consumers the ability to block advertising based on their Web browsing history. Officials from the Digital Advertising Alliance, which organized the effort, said that nearly 20 million users have visited the site at youradchoices.com and that more than 1 million have chosen to opt out of ad tracking.

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