Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is coming to the Federal Trade Commission's defense in the wake of criticism from some advertisers and GOP lawmakers over the agency's efforts to ensure consumers have a robust "do-not-track" option.
In a letter set to be delivered on Wednesday to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Rockefeller urged the commission to continue to work with the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, on developing standards for a do-not-track option. Leibowitz has been a strong proponent of giving consumers a choice of whether they want to be tracked online. Most major Internet browsers now include a do-not-track option.
The W3C, a group that sets technical standards for the Web, has convened a working group that includes privacy advocates, advertisers, Internet browser makers, and others aimed at developing voluntary standards for how websites should respond to consumers' do-not-track choices. The group is meeting in Amsterdam this week to continue its work despite disagreement between privacy advocates and advertisers on how to proceed.
Advertising networks like ValueClick and other advertising industry representatives have criticized the FTC's role in the W3C process and have been lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill to intervene. A group of House GOP lawmakers wrote the FTC last month with concerns about the FTC's role in the W3C process and the potential impact a robust do-not-track standard could have on online advertising.
"I do not share these concerns and urge you to continue your positive and constructive involvement in these deliberations," Rockefeller wrote. "It is entirely appropriate that the FTC is participating in the W3C process to provide technical expertise or otherwise facilitate the promulgation of voluntary standards on [do not track] or any other consumer protection standard within the consortium's purview."
He noted that the proposed W3C standards would be voluntary and that other government agencies participate in similar multi-stakeholder standard-setting initiatives. Some privacy advocates, meanwhile, have called on the FTC to take an even greater role in the W3C process.
Rockefeller warned the advertising industry that if it "cannot be coaxed into living up to its commitment and adopting robust voluntary [do-not-track] standards, I believe it will only highlight the need for Congress to act in the wake of the long history of industry failure to provide American consumers with the privacy protections they deserve."
Rockefeller introduced legislation last year that would require websites to honor consumers' do-not-track requests, but so far it has yet to attract enough support to move it out of his committee.
In his written reply to the House lawmakers last week, Leibowitz also defended the agency's participation in the W3C process, saying it is well within the agency's authority. At the same time, he said the FTC's role in the W3C talks "in no way usurps the legislative process or imposes a burden on industry. Rather, quite the opposite, as any standard the W3C sets would reflect the consensus of the participants and would be a self-regulatory and voluntary standard."