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Legal Update: Do Not Track Stirs; IAB Anti-Fraud Launch

April 28 2014
Three years on from a decision to look into definitions for web users’ Do Not Track requests, Internet standards group W3C has put up a draft for public scrutiny; and separately, in Australia, the IAB has announced the formation of a body to combat online ad fraud, the Brand Safety Council (BSC).

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) is proposing to define a ‘do not track’ request as a user’s wish not to have data about themselves collected by ad networks: however it expects to allow compliant ad networks to collect exempt types of information. Justin Brookman, Co-Chair of the W3C's tracking protection group, says the latter could include fraud prevention, ad frequency capping, billing and auditing.

Brookman says the announcement means that the Working Group ‘thinks that the specification is complete and ready for review by the larger community’. First party data is not on the whole included - in other words, the proposal ‘isn’t meant to stop Amazon from remembering what you do on their site, and The New York Times can still count the articles you read on NYTimes.com and recommend other articles to you based on that’. Prohibited actions mostly relate to sharing of the data with third parties. The group is accepting comments on the proposed definition through June 18th.

All the major browser providers now offer a setting for users to opt out of online behavioral advertising, but these merely send a signal to publishers and ad networks which can choose whether or not to comply. If the W3C’s working group - which has been beset by disagreements and changed leadership three times - puts out a standard, this voluntary approach is likely to change.

Meanwhile in Australia, the IAB’s working group on tackling online ad fraud - formed late in 2013 - has transformed into the Brand Safety Council (BSC), according to www.warc.com and AdNews. The group took on two problems, that of general ad impression fraud, and the more specific issue of online ads getting pushed to illegal and unsafe web sites.

The latter use a technique called URL masking to appear legal and serve ads for major brands delivered by ad networks - and caused problems for a number of major brands last year, leading to the formation of a group of 30 individuals to tackle it. IAB CEO Alice Manners says the BSC will reduce to ten to fifteen individuals by next month and will then begin looking into the extent of the problem with the aid of a research study. One aim of this will be to find out if the public is concerned about the issue or if it’s just one for the ad industry.