For over 15 years the World Wide Web Consortium has organized diverse groups of global experts to help create the technical protocols and guidelines that enable the Web to function in a reliable and trusted way. The W3C, as it’s known, has taken on some of the toughest challenges – even online privacy, an issue that at its heart isn’t necessarily technology-focused.
Today, the W3C’s “Tracking Protection” work group published the first public working drafts of what eventually should become Web privacy standards. (One of us – Matthias Schunter– co-chairs the work group.) These standards will help create a more consistent online expression of respect for individuals’ privacy preferences – while preserving the data-rich experience that so many organizations and consumers enjoy for its efficiency and convenience. Work group participants reflect the wide range of interests and expertise necessary to tackle this challenge: from enterprises such as Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft to communities and non-profit organizations such as Mozilla, the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Future of Privacy Forum and the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
Early efforts are promising, and gaining momentum. And the timing couldn’t be better, given recent privacy developments and the number of governments and other groups seeking a single approach that consumers can understand and use when they do not want data about their online behavior to be used in certain ways.
The W3C work group is working on two related standards. The “Tracking Preference Expression” standard would enable consumers to be able to tell Web sites their privacy preferences concerning tracking when they visit a site and in turn, learn from the site visited whether their preferences will be honored. The “Tracking Compliance and Scope Specification” intends to set out best practices for Web sites to follow so individuals can have consistent expectations about a Web site’s data collection and use practices in this respect. The BBC has also published an article that helps to explain how these standards would be experienced by the individual internet user.
Notably these proposed standards are not just about the consumer experience; to be successful, the W3C effort will require the support and participation of businesses who seek to take full advantage of online media and the insights offered by what’s become known as “big data.”
This open standards process – and complementary industry initiatives such as the Digital Advertising Alliance – can help businesses continue to realize, in a sustainable and trusted way, the benefits that Web-related technologies offer commerce and marketing.
The transformative nature of these Web technologies is well-recognized. More than half of the 1,734 Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) interviewed in a recent study by IBM think that social media and web commerce are key channels for engaging with customers.
At the same time, most of these CMOs recognize that consumer trust and privacy are priorities that must be addressed for their organizations to achieve future success. But not every online site selling a service or product that is collecting data is using it in compliance with privacy best practices, and this is where the new standards can help.