February 2011 Browser Privacy


Browser Privacy Mechanisms Roundtable

Wednesday, February 9th 2011
Bancroft Hotel, Berkeley

The Federal Trade Commission preliminary staff report, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change,” calls generally for privacy by design, and specifically for a do not track (DNT) system to allow consumers to better control online collection of information.  This is a challenging task, because many web interactions require a transfer of information that could be conceived of as “tracking.”  The major developers of browsers have all announced implementations of do not track systems recently.  The conceptions of DNT have different needs for implementing regulation and have different implications for businesses and consumers.  This roundtable will explore the contours of the regulations needed to effectuate do not track, the technical options to implement it, and the political and economic implications of do not track systems.

The roundtable will be moderated by:
Chris Jay Hoofnagle, Director of BCLT’s Information Privacy Programs
Deirdre K. Mulligan, Assistant Professor, UC Berkeley School of Information & BCLT Director
Paul M. Schwartz, Professor, UC Berkeley School of Law & BCLT Director

Twitter hashtag for the roundtable: #berkeleydnt

Transcript from the Browser Privacy Mechanisms Roundtable is available here.

Roundtable Agenda

12:30 – 1:00pm 
Welcome by Robert Barr, BCLT Executive Director  Audio

1:05 – 1:20pm
Tutorial on the state of online tracking
Tutorial leader: Ashkan Soltani  Audio

1:20 – 1:40pm
The FTC’s Privacy Agenda
Commissioner Julie Brill  Audio

1:40 – 2:15pm
Discussion topic 1: The Regulatory Perspective  Audio
This discussion will focus upon the problems that DNT seeks to address and the scope of tracking behavior that will be subject to DNT.  Regulations will need to be in place for DNT in order to set norms around what is tracking and the scope of behavior that DNT covers.  Research has shown that it is difficult to determine whether an ad was behaviorally targeted or a product of contextual or random placement.  Regulators and consumers thus will need means to determine that companies are in compliance with DNT.  This is especially challenging because some types of tracking will still be allowed under DNT, and because consumers will still receive ads even if DNT is enabled. 

Discussion topic 2: Technical Approaches  Audio
The DNT proposal borrows from the popularity of the telemarketing do not call registry, but the two ideas are very different.  DNT is not conceived of as a registry, also, in opposition to phone networks, the web makes it possible for consumers to make more granular (e.g. site-specific, and use-specific) choices about tracking.  Given the flexibility of the web and browsers, this discussion will focus upon how DNT can be implemented.  Discussants will consider the advantages and disadvantages of different implementations, and identify which implementations are most likely to address consumer concerns and be flexible enough to adapt to displacement—new forms of tracking adopted to circumvent DNT.

3:10 – 3:35pm 
Networking break

3:35 – 4:30pm 
Discussion topic 3: The Implications of DNT  Audio
The value of behavioral advertising is a key unknown, but critics of DNT have predicted apocalyptic outcomes for consumers and businesses if it is implemented.  This discussion will focus upon how will DNT affect businesses and consumers.  More websites, like the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times may erect paywalls, while less popular sites without the market power to charge may have to find other ways to monetize content.  Additionally, websites may simply deny access to those who are using DNT, or disable popular features until DNT is disabled.  Discussants will also consider the risk that companies will develop alternative data sharing methods, as they have done in the offline advertising world (cooperative databasing, etc), to build profiles on users who are using DNT.  As with all consumer regulations, rules create winners and losers.  Discussants will consider whether DNT will give advantages to “first-party” tracking while disadvantaging network tracking.

4:30 – 5:30pm