The privacy-enhancing Do Not Track standard is wobbling badly after barely surviving a no-confidence vote by the W3C consortium.
Held among World Wide Web Committee (W3C) working group members, the vote against drafting a Do-Not-Track (DNT) standard was narrowly defeated by a majority of just five.
W3C members working on the Tracking Preference Expression (TPE) were asked if they felt the group's work "wasn't in their interests" and if they'd prefer to down tools on it.
Seventeen agreed with the statement and said they wanted to stop while 22 working group members disagreed and wanted to press on.
The vote was one of a series of five put to TPE reps by the W3C in order to gain feedback on where the standard should go, a W3C spokesperson told The Register. The poll ran between September 18 and October 9.
The W3C's work on DNT has been running for two years, but there's been growing divisions and an increasing impasse between browser makers and tech companies on working groups and those representing ad-makers and marketing firms.
The series of votes was a one-off that the W3C spokesperson said had been called for by participants in order to "express their views."
Other proposals put to members in the five votes include separating the work on completing the TPE standard and the work on compliance with the standard. The votes to continue the TPE work but to separate the standard from work on compliance were, at least, passed with a majority "yes".
The spokesperson for the W3C told The Reg: "The Working Group has a plan for going forward."
The group is understood to have met since the vote, but it's not clear what the outcome was.
But while the vote of no confidence was defeated, and the votes to push ahead with the standard did pass, the whole event highlighted the deep divisions inside the W3C working group and raised questions over whether a industry-level DNT can actually be delivered.
That's because the overwhelming majority of the 17 who feel the work no longer represents their interests were advertising and marketing groups - the Network Advertising Initiative, the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe, the Mobile Marketing Association and the Digital Advertising Alliance.
The 22 pro-DNT organisations, meanwhile, span privacy and data protection executives and engineers at technology companies including browser makers including Microsoft, Mozilla, Apple, Yahoo!.
And, despite what the W3C said about "a plan for going forward" the DNT work is showing the first real signs of fragmentation.
The DAA has said it now intends to implement its own solution DNT and privacy. The DAA's members include some of the best known, household names in consumer electronics, banking and finance, media, technology and manufacturing.
Commenting on the W3C vote, the DAA's Luigi Mastria said:
"Going forward, the DAA intends to focus its time and efforts on growing this already-successful consumer choice program in "desktop," mobile and in-app environments. The DAA is confident that such efforts will yield greater advances in consumer privacy and industry self-regulation than would its continued participation at the W3C."
The DAA in July tried to introduce wording into the DNT spec that would have let their members continue targeting consumers even if they'd enabled DNT in the browser.
This was rejected by the group. Earlier, the DAA had told the W3C that any attempt to place restrictions on its members collecting users' data would be a "non starter."
Privacy activists sided with the ads men in the W3C no-confidence vote, but for different reasons -they voted tactically.
Jeffrey Chester, non-executive director of the Centre for Digital Democracy, among the 17 in favour of continuing work on DNT, branded the TPE work "flawed" and a "farce."
"This proceeding is so flawed - it's a farce. Global online users deserve better - from industry, WC3, and also regulators. Users require tools and policies that can help them control the growing collection and tracking apparatus that threatens their privacy across the digital landscape," Chester said.
Electronic Frontier Foundation TPE rep Lee Tien, also among the 17, said the EFF had lost confidence the group's work will produce a workable standard.
"We therefore prefer that the group simply end. If the group continues, we would seriously consider dropping out," he said. ®