back to article How the W3C met its Waterloo at the Do Not Track vote showdown

The W3C has set some important rules governing the adoption of web technologies. Yet on the issue of privacy, the standards shop has met its Waterloo. By establishing things like XML and HTML as standards, the W3C has helped ensure the web works everywhere – no matter what web server or browser you’re using. Without HTML you’ …


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  1. Francis Vaughan


    Hang on here - the Tracking Preference Expression working group has been working for two years and has 105 members? Just to provide a standard on Do Not Track? It sounds as if the W3C has more problems than a bit of dissent.

    Seriously, someone let the politics and vested interests get the better of the process way early in the effort. If this is how W3C is operating it is already long past its use by date. People pointed at the ITU as the benchmark of paralysis in progress, and as the reason why the internet needed something new. Seems history repeats itself all to quickly.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: 105

      Of course it does. Follow the money. A substantial amount of the internet is paid for by advertising. Including most of the shiny stuff Google do. Therefore the advertisers are going to demand a seat at the table. Therefore a compromise will have to be reached that doesn't piss off one side so much that they throw the whole deal up in the air, and piss all over everyone else's chips.

      Given that only a limited subset of internet users seem to care about privacy, and not many more seem interested in bothering to learn the issues, there's a lot that the advertisers can get away with.

      To quote Eric Schmidt, "There is what I call the creepy line. The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it."

      Which is a pretty good summary of the situation. Don't wake the twin sleeping giants of government or public. They're happy when they're asleep, they don't really want to have to care about this sort of thing. Therefore they get very grumpy if you wake them up, and force them to take notice by taking the piss too much. And then they may over-react and bugger-up your whole business by mistake.

      1. CaptainHook

        Re: 105

        The reason the Do Not Track functionality exists is because the creepy line has already been crossed.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: 105


          Agreed. Facebook and Google in particular are waaaaaaay across the creepy line, as far as I'm concerned. But that's still a minority view. Most people are more interested in getting on with their lives, and don't wish to 'waste their time' by getting involved in politics or 'weird obsessions about privacy'. Right until their love for goat-porn is exposed to their families due to tracking/advertising.

          Plus society and politics are usually pretty slow at catching up with technological change. The internet is still in it's Wild West phase, and I'm sure there's a few more years of that to go.

  2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    The browser makers also have a lot of power here. At the moment, the anti-tracking / anti-advertising tools are a bit of a blunt instrument. I don't want to ad-block The Register, because I want to read your stuff, so I want you to get paid. But equally, I can't be bothered to turn on an ad-blocker, and then manually configure it to see ads from the sites I want to get paid. I've therefore decided it's only fair to accept advertising - rather than be lazy and block it all.

    The same with tracking and cookies. It's a lot of effort, what with having to clear the Flash cache, the browser cache, and presumably when IPv6 comes in, regularly change the MAC address of your pooter that it's reporting

    The browser makers could simplify a lot of this. They could play around with what info they give out in headers, what links they automatically follow, what images they download, how they respond to javascript tracking and how they accept cookies. And give the user back a lot of control for all the sneaky stuff that's going on. Although I guess Chrome has no incentive to do that, and Firefox do get a lot of their cash from Google - so will have to be cautious about pissing them off.

    One thing that would be nice (and very easy) is a way to right click on an obnoxious advert and kill it. Like the O2 ones that the Register was running a while back, and said they couldn't cancel because they had a contract - and O2 took an absolute age to fix. Adobe don't want to give you tools to turn that shit off, because they're crap, but Firefox could easily do it. Either a one-off thing, or just a one-click way to kill the Flash Plug-in, if Adobe won't play ball in some way.

    There's likely going to have to be a deal at some point. There's a whole bunch of people holding the nuclear option on each other, so if they don't deal, someone's going to press it. Governments may choose to get involved, which will almost certainly fail - but could do so by buggering up the market totally. Browser makers could nuke the advertising market instantly - if they were really pissed off. Facebook, Google and social networks have loads of info gathered through log-ins, so might feel that going on an anti-advertising-tracking campaign could suit them - as they get their creepy info a different way. Or the consumers could go rogue and start boycotting the creepiest stuff (in reality whichever high-profile target missteps and gets noticed), and force change.

    It's all fun and games, until someone loses an eye...

    1. Wize

      I had no problem with adverts to begin with.

      Then they started adding animations.

      Then they added sound.

      Some look like legitimate buttons (seen one on my phone that pretends to be the menu at the top of Facebook's mobile app with an active message to be read, thus fooling some in to tapping on it)

      Some even pop over the text you are trying to read if you dare move your mouse near them.

      I wouldn't have started blocking with ad-block had they stuck to text/non animated images.

      Maybe the ad-block writers could have a 'block some' option where adverts that behave don't get blocked. It could train the others to start behaving if others are getting their ads served up.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Maybe the ad-block writers could have a 'block some' option where adverts that behave don't get blocked. It could train the others to start behaving if others are getting their ads served up.

        That's surely one possibility. Say some of Firefox, Opera, MS and Apple got together and have a set of obnoxious advert tools. Then if enough users click on the 'kill this crappy ad' button, it gets blocked on all their browsers. Even FF with its 20% market share could have a big impact on its own. MS might get into trouble with regulators if they go it alone. It could even be a popular feature that pull users away from Chrome, and forces Google to join in.

      2. Mark #255

        Adblock plus and "non-intrusive" ads

        "Maybe the ad-block writers could have a 'block some' option where adverts that behave don't get blocked. It could train the others to start behaving if others are getting their ads served up."

        Adblock Plus does this nowadays, and by default allows what it calls "non-intrusive" ads. There was a storm about them selling out at the time, but it's arguably a reasonable option to have.

      3. Wade Burchette

        I, too, also have no problem with ads. I have a problem with ads that track you, that are annoying, and that are meant to look like the actual web page. The problem advertisers don't seem to understand is that the more you bombard us, the more we tune you out. We have ads everywhere we go. When I ride the bus, I see an ad. When I go to a game, I see an ad. When I rent a movie, I see an ad. I'm surprised these people haven't gone the Futurama route and started pumping ads in my dreams.

        If you want your advertisements to be more effective, we need LESS of them, not more. And they need to be simple and not aggravating. I use the Ghostery add-on for a reason.

        What I do for websites that I want to support is I run Internet Explorer in private mode, go to the website, click on an ad, and then wait a little bit and click a link on the advertiser's website so that the original website gets credit. Then I close IE and run CCleaner to get rid of any trace of tracking.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: "I'm surprised these people haven't [..] started pumping ads in my dreams"

          Only because they don't know how.


      4. Tom 13

        Re: I wouldn't have started blocking

        I don't block, but concur that advertisers need to learn some manners. The animations don't usually annoy me too much (although I'd like to shoot the people who use the ones that flash so badly you'd think they'd be sued for causing epileptic fits), but the delayed pop-ups, pop-unders (my FF is set to save my last session so if I don't see them and close them first they mess it up), expanding windows, and most especially the timer ad messages irritate the hell out of me.

        1. Fihart

          Re: I wouldn't have started blocking @Tom 13

          "............advertisers need to learn some manners."

          Too right.

          I look at sites like Daily Telegraph and Guardian daily on my phone and have no problem with their ads.

          But a recent dip into Daily Mirror site was marred by a stupid ad that followed one down the page blocking stories. Same process, different ad next day. Maddening and self defeating because I will probably delete if from my bookmarks.

          Incidentally The Reg's Cookie warning banner does something similar so I don't look at the Reg on my phone.

    2. Sirius Lee

      The browser maker have little or no power. The adverts we see are not generated by the browser. They are generated by the web site you visit. The browser maker can add a handy option that puts a header into each request but it's up to the web site owner whether or not they honor the intent of the header. It's not like there's an <ad/> tag which wraps everything ad related on a page so the browser is powerless to do any filtering without also potentially affecting the content you want to see. OK there are ad blocker tool but they are very specific and, anyway, do not need a header to offer their limited help.

      1. John Savard

        Not all advertisements

        It's true that browser makers can't block banner ads infallibly. After all, they're just pictures sitting on a web page.

        But view web pages with, say, Mosaic, and you'll be surprised by how few pop-up ads you see, or ads that slide over content, or even by how few cookies you get. Yes, that also turns off fancy features that could be used in the service of content instead of advertising (you won't be able to view YouTube videos from Mosaic) but browser makers could indeed offer users a lot more control over what a page is allowed to do.

  3. codejunky Silver badge


    Its not paranoia when they are out to track you

  4. Steve Knox
    Black Helicopters


    Is it coincidence that this page seemed to stop loading right at the point where the ads usually load, and finally after a few refreshes, the page finally did load for me, but without any ads?

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Is there actually any evidence...

    That web users actually *want* adverts?

    Not 'want' as in 'they're ok if they're just text boxes'.

    Not 'want' as in 'I don't care, I have an ad blocker'.

    Not 'want' as in 'I feel I should support the people who pay for the interwebs'.

    Not 'want' as in 'Ooh, these adverts are targeted just at me'.

    But actually, deep in their soul, ache to have their attention diverted and their precious time wasted, their ears and eyes sullied with attention grabbers, their social media and networking and news and technical sites polluted with crap that there is a chance in a thousand they might actually want to purchase?

    Or do they just put up with it?

    There is only one time I *ever* want to see an advert, and that's when I make an explicit search for an item or class thereof. Until then, I'll pay to keep sites free of adverts, or just use blockers. Life is too short.

    1. Mark #255

      Re: Is there actually any evidence...

      That web users actually *want* adverts?

      Bit of a straw man?

      It seems that ads are the only current reasonable compromise, given that tip-jars and micro-payments as a whole are few and far-between. So I applaud making ads less objectionable, less invasive, and the creation of tools which can express fine-grained user desires more fully.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Is there actually any evidence...

      Neil Barnes,

      I can answer your question. Users want advertising. They've shown this by mostly refusing to pay for websites, when there was a free alternative with adverts.

      Like any opinion poll question, you have to be careful how you ask it. I'm sure that if you asked people "do you like advertising" you'd mostly get a resounding raspberry. But, if you asked the same people 'would you prefer The Daily Mail online to be free (supported by ads), or would you rather pay for it' - you'd get a different answer.

      Admittedly many might say 'yuck, I'd like the Mail to go out of business'... But the point stands. People put up with ads to get the stuff they want for free. It's a perfectly reasonable transaction.

      The problem is that people in general aren't particularly bothered by what's going on (don't really think about it), until someone points it out in a way that they notice. Then they'll be annoyed. So the industry will walk a creepy fine line between what it thinks it can get away with, and what it would like to try. There will be scandals and campaigns. But I suspect that most people are happy to be advertised at, and even happy to be tracked (at least a bit), in exchange for free stuff that they value. How much of it they'll put up with, is still anybody's guess.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Is there actually any evidence...


        I'm not sure I agree. There's a difference between 'want' and 'put up with'. You're quite right; the difference is in how the question is asked - and equally, I'm aware that while I dislike adverts, at least some of the sites I use are reliant upon advertising for their existence.

        The problem is probably not resolvable by rational thought - I almost wonder if the equation (conscious or not) for most people is 'I get something I don't really care about in exchange for adverts I don't really watch'. But there's a subtle brainwashing going on in that people are now conditioned to expect adverts with everything... and there's an equally obvious approach with so many new sites appearing with few or no adverts and gradually increasing the intrusiveness and quantity of them.

        I can answer my question, too: I happen to be an administrator of a car owner's club forum which is paid for by club members. There are no adverts, and non-members are allowed almost free rein over the site; there are only a couple of sub-fora reserved for club members only.

        The ratio of members to users is approximately 1:10...

        Which says it all, really.

        I guess I spent too many years working for the BBC.

    3. Steve Knox

      Re: Is there actually any evidence...

      Wrong question.

      There is plenty of evidence that people accept advertising as a means to reduce the cost of content.

      But this debate isn't about advertising. It's about tracking. It's a measure of how far we've sunk that the two completely different concepts are inseparable in the minds of some.

      For centuries, advertising has worked fine with little to no tracking. Even television's Neilsen ratings only gave advertisers information on the effectiveness of the content and the general audience, not the identity of indiviudual viewers. Then some online advertisers got the bright idea of following users from site to site, monitoring what they did, and serving "targeted" advertising. Now, because they've been doing it, they don't want to stop.

      I'm fine with advertising. But even online advertising does not need to do this level of tracking to be successful.

    4. Tom 13

      Re: Is there actually any evidence...

      Mostly no. Mostly I just tolerate it.

      But some small percentage of the time, say 0.01% yes and ad catches my eye. If it catches my eye, there is another 0.01% I'll click on it to see what they are selling. And from that I believe there is another 0.01% chance I'll see something I want that I might otherwise have missed. But it is certainly reasonable to ask if given those odds, this is really the model on which we should build the internet.

  6. lglethal Silver badge

    A quick question

    Firefox has a DNT function? Where do I find that and how the heck do I turn it on?

    Perhaps the reason only 20% of the customers have it enabled is that the rest of us didnt even know it was available!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: A quick question

      Tools > Options > Privacy tab > tracking is the first bit of the page, just click in the box you want.

      Admittedly it's buried away and this is an interesting argument. MS turned it on by default, and took a whole load of crap for doing so. Presumably on the grounds that no-one is going to choose to turn tracking on. And default opt in is always the most convenient option for advertisers / Ryanair trying to sell you insurance / junk mailers / Google giving you their toolbar / Adobe giving you McAfee...

      So Mozilla have it turned off. Chrome has it hidden behind an advanced settings hyperlink in the settings page, also off by default.

      Of course the problem with all the browser makers turning it on by default is that the advertisers can then say that this wasn't a user choice, so we'll ignore it. So there's no easy answer.

    2. theblackhand

      Re: A quick question

      Options | Privacy

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just a little point.

    Mozilla may of been the 1st to implement it, but MS said they would do before Mozilla, but the borwser (i.e.9 was realeased after Firefox), and Microsoft were the 1st to turn it on by default (i.e.10).

    And let's not forgot Apache's part in this debacle by deliberatly coding to IGNORE the requests from ie10, as they wanted it to be DISABLED by default, as it went against the spirit of the agreement. This has now be ammended.

    1. monkeyfish

      Re: Just a little point.

      I actually think DNT would be in a better position if IE10 (and the rest) had stayed opt in, not opt out. If you opt in then you definitely care about it and don't want to be tracked, with opt out facebook get to ignore it as not all users 'wanted' DNT. If there is only a small subset that want DNT and turn it on, then really, the advertiser shouldn't worry about lost revenue and support it. After all, if you've enabled DNT you probably wont click on the ads anyway, and anyone who will click on the ads wont have turned it off.

      It's much the same with adblock or facebook privacy settings, those who care use the tools to lock it down, but we're such a small and insignificant portion of the user base that it's really just a blip on the data set.

      EDIT: I suppose the reg might have a bit of an issue here, as a large portion of the user base will have blocked the ads, but for normal websites it wouldn't matter.

      Personally I just block images, only allowing them as I want to see them, rather than any fancy adblockers.. So text ads will still get through.

      1. pip25

        Re: Just a little point.

        Unfortunately many people fail to see a very simple point: ad networks will never support any kind of agreement that prevents them from tracking/exploiting/monetizing the majority of the Internet users, at least unless state legislations (those of the US and the EU in particular) force them to do otherwise, and that's unlikely to happen in the near future. Thus, DNT being "on" by default in any major browser doomed the standard immediately.

        It's always been about the inexperienced, the uninformed or the plain ignorant. Why do you think, when submitting a registration to a forum or site, the checkbox that allows people to spam you with their useless newsletter is always, ALWAYS checked by default? Most people currently either don't know or don't care about tracking, and this is the major reason why you even have the possibility to opt-out from services such as Google Now at all.

        We are allowed to make a choice because most users do not bother. No, that's not a good thing at all, but a lot more fundamental change would be needed in the financial model of Internet companies today to allow things to be done differently. A simple request header will not do much.

  8. Steve Renouf

    Grammar lesson

    for all those that insist on using "of" instead of "have" as the auxilliary verb for the present perfect tense:

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Grammar lesson

      should of could of would of etc

      are all wrong, even if they sound right. They should be

      should have (or maybe should've) etc

      Generally I ignore any post containing errors like that (which is probably unfair sometimes as it's possibly the posters' English teachers that were to blame).

      Occasionally that class of error alone rates a downvote from me.

      Articulate. Clearly

  9. Tikimon

    "pay for the web"? Resistance for a better tomorrow!

    Okay, let's address the argument that we need advertisements to "pay for the web". I'll grant that folks need to make some cash somehow.

    However, we do not have to accept the existing methods they use to collect the cash. If the current ad-supported regime fails, GOOD! We need something better, and I refuse to support intrusive business models out of some weird sense of obligation. Let the ad-trackers fail and a better way will emerge.

    Businesses choose a business model and expect everyone's help making it work, no matter how stupid or invasive. Consider telephone marketers, who wailed and whined when we all signed onto "do not call" lists. Are we obligated to answer SPAM calls to support telemarketers?

    Hey admen! Your business model clearly sucks, if you can't make a buck without knowing everything about me. I will not support it. Find another one that better serves me, not you.

  10. This Side Up

    Any server / browser?

    "By establishing things like XML and HTML as standards, the W3C has helped ensure the web works everywhere – no matter what web server or browser you’re using."

    Which it lamentably failed to do. How many sites do you come across that only "support" certain browsers? Many are written to exploit particular features in certain browsers that aren't available for all platforms.

    1. Havin_it

      Re: Any server / browser?

      Uh... shit I know this, hang on...

      Yeah, got it. It was the site of a small but well-known Italian deli in Edinburgh. About eight years ago.

      Where've you been?

    2. Tom 13

      Re: Any server / browser?

      Young ins. You can always spot them in a crowd mouthing off about things they know nothing about.

      These days from home there is exactly one website I visit that doesn't work properly with a bog standard browser. Not sure why and I haven't complained about it because their reporting hours don't work so well for me. And it is easy enough for me to open IE on the rare occasion I do need to use the single function that doesn't work properly.

      Yes work is a different story. Too damn much legacy code on the agency intranet that requires IE8. But that's the intranet, not the internet.

      The internet pretty much just works. Oh you might need to install Flash, or Java or Adobe Air for a website here or there to work, but you can install it in the browser of your choosing, not the one the site designer chose. Not like when the internet was starting out and every website you visited was tagged somewhere on the home page with either "best viewed in IE [ version]" or "best viewed in Netscape [version]". Everyone was lined up on one side or the other in The Great Browser War. While it was true progress was faster because that was how the war was fought, it was also damned annoying.

    3. harmjschoonhoven

      Re: Any server / browser? finds errors and flags warnings in a large fraction of webpages. Browsers have now 'learned' to handle almost all of them gracefully. Most errors have nothing to do with targeting specific browsers, but are the result of sloppy programming.

      Even many homepages of HTML code generators like contain errors (in this case 197 Errors, 89 warnings).

      Mine is the one with valid-html40.png in the pocket.

  11. lnLog
    Thumb Down

    Oh how I loath ad-speak

    Who wants to be 'touched' by an Ad-Man?

    1. monkeyfish

      Re: Oh how I loath ad-speak

      That ad-man's been touching my children!

  12. Paul Shirley

    tracking gets it wrong every time anyway

    If admen could guarantee that tracking would improve my experience I might opt in to tracking rather than opting out of adverts completely. But so far I've not seen a single explanation of why it's good for users that actually demonstrated any real benefit to users.

    Far from being served by targeted adverts, I'd prefer they used tracking to avoid trying to sell me something I've just bought, stop boring me with the same products everywhere, stop ruining the few entertaining ads by showing them to me 20x a day.

    If they knew enough about me to make tracking genuinely work they'd know enough to stop wasting money advertising at me at all. Or in reality they'd know enough to make the web living hell with saturation boredom, every accidental click just deepening the whirlpool of positive feedback and saturation crapvertising.

    1. LaeMing

      Re: tracking gets it wrong every time anyway

      But.... If they don't feed us the horribly mis-directed adverts, they won't be able to bill the said adverts' owners for sending out x-number of adverts! Don't forget, every time you are sent a totally inappropriate advert, it is the other end of the chain that the ad-men are ripping off. Take solace in that.

    2. Havin_it

      Re: tracking gets it wrong every time anyway

      All too true. I'll spare you the examples from my own experience, but Maddox summed it up quite nicely once. It wasn't the point of the article, but I will always characterise the value of tracking advertising through this observation from Amazon:

      People who bought Crocs also viewed Truck Balls.

      If you require an explanation of either item, may I suggest you use DuckDuckGo ;)

  13. raving angry loony

    I will stop blocking ads when I can be certain that when I do I will not be assaulted by jittery, moving, annoying, cross-site tracking pieces of trash written by trolls. I'd LOVE to let certain websites get remunerated for their work, and if having them display ads on my screen does this, I'm OK with that. But each and every time I've disabled my ad blockers (NoScript / AdBlock+ / Ghostery) on a site, I keep getting those jittery, moving, annoying, and above all privacy destroying cross-site behaviour tracking pieces of trash. So the blocks stay on.

    If sites can't find ways to monetize without aiding and abetting anti-privacy behaviour tracking organizations, too bad. Maybe you should fire your marketing group for being a lazy c... bastards and completely outsourcing your ad stream while selling your viewers to 3rd parties.

    As for phones, I certainly can't visit most sites using that as there's no room on the screen left for what I came for. So I never use my phone for browsing.

    That said, I've already turned off AdBlock and NoScript for El Reg. But I'll not turn off Ghostery, you DoubleClick loving monsters.

  14. John Savard

    Simple Solution

    Who let the advertisers in anyways? Revise who can be a member of the W3C so that it is composed of technical people and others who have the interests of general web users at heart, and votes won't end up with results inimical to the web serving the public.

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