Re: Third-Party Web Tracking: Policy and Technology Paper outlining harms of tracking

Apologies for jumping in here, but I have to completely disagree - "what are the harms" is exactly the right question.

I am not unsympathetic to the notion that intangible harm may be more difficult to quantify than say job loss or revenue reduction, but that doesn't mean we don't have some responsibility to make our best comparisons.

>From the industry side the "harm" of DNT:1 is not all that difficult of a calculus.  In 2011, according to the PwC Advertising Revenue Report, ad revenue (largely used to fund "free" content and services) was $31.7 billion dollars.  There has been great debate over what percentage of this is attributable to "behavioral advertising", but really this may be a straw man.  The impact of DNT goes far, far beyond behavioral advertising (as evidenced by our ongoing discussion of the financial reporting exception).  By way of concrete example, of 2011's 31.7 billion in sales, 65% (or 20.3 billion) was priced on a "performance" based metric.  This means that pricing was based on what would potentially be considered "tracking" how the ad performed.  In other words, looking at only this consideration, DNT has the potential, based on the default behavior of a relatively few number of actors, to be in direct conflict with the single largest way ads are sold and measured online today.

This is why you'll find industry so persistent about harm.  In the above example alone $20.3 billion - largely used to fund free consumer content and services - is at risk.  Pick your favorite free online site or utility and ask yourself how it might change what it provides you for free if it lost 2/3rds of its revenue.  It would be nice if we could attempt to quantify the potential for intangible harms as they have an 11 digit number to get to before they balance the scales.



Brooks Dobbs, CIPP | Chief Privacy Officer | KBM Group | Part of the Wunderman Network
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From: Joseph Lorenzo Hall <<>>
Date: Thursday, October 11, 2012 2:46 PM
To: Alan Chapell <<>>
Cc: "<<>>" <<>>, Jonathan Mayer <<>>
Subject: Re: Third-Party Web Tracking: Policy and Technology Paper outlining harms of tracking
Resent-From: <<>>
Resent-Date: Thursday, October 11, 2012 2:46 PM

Hi Alan, I don't mean to pile on or seem confrontational...

But for those of us who have a background in privacy theory and scholarship, "show us the harms" comes up often, and I don't think it's exactly the right question.

Privacy implications/intrusions are often emotional, intangible and subject to considerable variation amongst individuals. I think the Berkeley survey write-up makes a number of key points: at least in the US, the FTC has had to police privacy issues on a piecemeal basis, and the increasing collection of data about the web-surfing public coupled with problems in protecting and in some cases exploiting that information (cite to settlements/actions) means we really need an effective way to allow users to signal that they don't want this collection and subsequent implications (with some narrow common-sense exceptions). It certainly is complicated in the bigger, global picture ... and I'd like to think we we can design something that effectively does that. And despite defaults or not, many of us will be educating users about these tools (and how to grant exceptions and what that means) when the spec gets adopted.

best, Joe

Joseph Lorenzo Hall
Senior Staff Technologist
Center for Democracy & Technology

On Oct 10, 2012, at 16:55, Alan Chapell <<>> wrote:

Hi Jonathan -

In addition to my questions below, I'm curious whether your research has documented specific examples of these harms occurring in the real world?

Thanks again,


From: Alan Chapell <<>>
Date: Saturday, October 6, 2012 5:14 AM
To: <<>>, Jonathan Mayer <<>>
Subject: Third-Party Web Tracking: Policy and Technology Paper outlining harms of tracking

Hi Jonathan -

A few days ago, you invited me (via IRC) to review your recent paper which  among other items  outlines some of the potential harms of tracking. (See

Thanks  As you may have noticed, I've been asking a number of folks in the WG for examples of harms and haven't received very much information in response. So I want to applaud your effort to help provide additional information and to facilitate a dialog. That said, I want to make sure I understand your thinking here  or at least help clarify some of the distinctions you may be drawing.

I'm curious whether your position is that those harms are equally apparent in a first party setting  where a first party utilizes their own data for ad targeting across the internet? For example, in your scenario where "an actor that causes harm to a consumer." Is that not also possible in a first party context? Does the first party not have both "the means", "the access" and at least potentially, the ability to take the  "action" that causes the harms you lay out? (e.g., "Publication, a less favorable offer, denial of a benefit, or termination of employment. Last, a particular harm that is inflicted. The harm might be physical, psychological, or economic.")

Do you believe that a direct relationship between consumers and first party websites completely mitigates that risk of harm  even where the first parties have significant stores of personally identifiable data?

Has your position evolved over the past few months? Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I believe that one of the proposals offered by Mozilla / Stanford and EFF sought to address forms of first party tracking. Do I have that correct?

Thanks  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Excerpt from your paper for the convenience of others.

"When considering harmful web tracking scenarios, we find it helpful to focus on four variables. First, an actor that causes harm to a consumer. The actor might, for example, be an authorized employee, malicious employee, competitor, acquirer, hacker, or government agency. Second, a means of access that enables the actor to use tracking data. The data might be voluntarily transferred, sold, stolen, misplaced, or accidentally distributed. Third, an action that harms the consumer. The action could be, for example, publication, a less favorable offer, denial of a benefit, or termination of employment. Last, a particular harm that is inflicted. The harm might be physical, psychological, or economic.
The countless combinations of these variables result in countless possible bad outcomes for consumers. To ex- emplify ourthinking, here is one commonly considered scenario: A hacker (actor) breaksinto a tracking company (means of access) and publishes its tracking information (action), causing some embarrassing fact about the consumer to become known and inflicting emotional distress (harm).9
Risks associated with third-party tracking are heightened by the lack of market pressure to exercise good security and privacy practices. If a first-party website is untrustworthy, users may decline to visit it. But, since users are unaware of the very existence of many third-party websites, they cannot reward responsible sites and penalize irresponsible sites.10"

Received on Thursday, 11 October 2012 19:59:34 UTC