W3C AB : governance and trust choices

Dear W3C Advisory Board,

We are writing to request the Advisory Board (AB) intervene on matters of W3C governance and trust choices.

As individuals and representatives of our organisations some of us joined the W3C, and/or the W3C Improving Web Advertising Business Group to "encourage cooperation in the industry through the promotion and development of standard interfaces" as defined in the membership agreement [1]. Some of us were persuaded to join, or increase our participation, by the W3C who were seeking broader stakeholder representation, and by Google who advised those wishing to feedback or contribute to their Privacy Sandbox proposal [2] should do so via the W3C to "make sure they address your needs."

Others of us represent organisations that are not members of the W3C, but are stakeholders in the open web. We have been similarly encouraged to join the W3C debates via the community groups and other methods of consultation.

During the first half of 2020 we have engaged in W3C hosted debates concerning privacy, the future of long-established standard interfaces, and the standards that support cross-publisher web advertising. In doing so we have identified two matters we urgently request the Advisory Board's (AB) review and formally advise on.

Governance Process

We believe that the W3C governance process aims to represent all stakeholders of the web. Unfortunately, as the web has grown in size, a disparity in organizational size now threatens this governance process.

Different W3C member organisations are able to dedicate differing numbers of people, with varying amounts of time and expertise. Member organizations with the capacity to field larger numbers of people with the time and mandate to navigate the complexity of multiple groups, processes, history, and documents are advantaged. In contrast, smaller organizations are unable to participate across the same breadth of groups and their concerns and interests are thus often underrepresented. Failure to address this issue leaves the valuable work of the W3C open to the criticism that it is a participatory standards process in name only.

Existing statutes recognize this issues, such as paragraph 295 of the guidelines on the applicability of European Union Treaty Article 101 to horizontal co-operation [3], which states "If participation in the standard-setting process is open in the sense that it allows all competitors (and/or stakeholders) in the market affected by the standard to take part in choosing and elaborating the standard, this will lower the risks of a likely restrictive effect on competition by not excluding certain companies from the ability to influence the choice and elaboration of the standard. The greater the likely market impact of the standard and the wider its potential fields of application, the more important it is to allow equal access to the standard-setting process."

We request the W3C urgently amend its governance processes to comply with the established norms of other standards bodies, given its mission to steward the technology that is used by 4,000,000,000 people.

Impacts to Choice

We all agree privacy is very important. We believe the web is for everyone. We also believe people must be free to decide who they trust or do not trust. People should not have these choices taken away by a few companies making decisions on their behalf. Moreover, we believe that web publishers and the marketers that fund them should also have choice on which supply chain partners they wish to work with rather than having this decision similarly taken out of their hands.

The recent findings from the UK Competition and Market Authority [4] reinforce the importance of both these choice concepts. Moreover, large platforms' research has quantified a substantial impact to publisher revenues when advertising is served without a pseudonymous digital ID. Their findings, which consistently show that such advertising yields approximately half the revenue relative to advertising that does contain such an ID, poses a large risk to the financial viability for the vast majority of websites.

Laws including GDPR and CCPA have been put in place to ensure people's trust choices are respected and bad practices discouraged. Sanctions are imposed on those that do not respect those choices. If the open web loses all possibility of providing cross-publisher identifiers, smaller publishers and other web stakeholders will be competitively disadvantaged.

A second likely impact will be not only the reduction in quantity of publishers that can afford to operate, but the quality of content and services those continuing to operate can afford to provide. None of these impacts are aligned to the W3C's mission.

Yet multiple, current W3C proposals appear to remove standards of interoperability as well as restrict people's choices. We do not believe the consequences for society and people are being respected within these W3C groups.

When we have attempted to raise these concerns, we have often been dismissed out of hand. To cite just one example; in a recent dialogue a browser vendor participant responded to the issues raised around people's trust choices with the comment [5] "The laws are insufficient due to corruption of the political process by special interests (see the US, for instance). This is why browsers and other folks are having to intervene." Such statements demonstrate an unwillingness to ensure an appropriate funding model can exist to help the open web flourish in support of the W3C mission.

We are not the only group to recognise these themes. The IETF memo "The Internet is for End Users" [6] mentions these same society-level issues that are also concerns for us.

We are ready to provide further information on these important issues and contribute to agreeing remedies should you wish. We look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

James Rosewell, for 51Degrees
Mikel, Lekaroz, for adbibotech
Anthony Rouillot, for Adcash
Jochen Schlosser, for Adform
Lavin Punjabi, for Affinity.com
Sergio Suárez, for Annalect Omnicom
David J. Moore for BritePool
Salvatore Cospito, for Datmean
Rafael Martínez, for DENTSU
David St Pierre, for DeviceForensIQ
Rotem Dar, for eyeo
Scott Menzer, for ID5
Wilfried Schobeiri, for MediaMath
Nacho Suanzes, for Neural.ONE
John Sabella, for PubMatic
Miguel Moraleja, for Rebold
José María Rodríguez Millan, for smartclip
Kristoffer Nelson, for SRAX
Paul Chachko, for Throtle
Joshua Koran, for Zeta Global

[1] https://www.w3.org/2009/12/Member-Agreement
[2] https://blog.chromium.org/2020/01/building-more-private-web-path-towards.html
[3] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52011XC0114(04)&from=EN
[4] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5efc57ed3a6f4023d242ed56/Final_report_1_July_2020_.pdf
[5] https://discourse.wicg.io/t/advertising-to-interest-groups-without-tracking/4565/20
[6] https://intarchboard.github.io/for-the-users/draft-iab-for-the-users.html

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Received on Monday, 13 July 2020 16:19:45 UTC