Will Becerra enforce global opt out?  PARRROT would put data in cloud; book forecasts digital ad biz collapse

Privacy Beat

Your weekly privacy news update.


Publisher, browser, privacy coalition presses platforms, ad-tech to honor global opt-outs — if  Becerra plays ball 

An idea hatched by a Wesleyan University computer scientist and honed through public discussions at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is now poised to present a major business challenge to Google, Facebook and other users of personal data. A coalition of key publishers, browser makers and privacy advocates announced a “Global Privacy Control” coalition.

Leveraging language in the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the Mozilla, DuckDuckGo and Brave browsers will offer test users an option to click a single button once and then automatically send a “Do Not Sell My Data” message to every site they visit.

Unlike the ineffective “do not track” button of a decade ago, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has signaled he will use the CCPA language to fine sites which don’t respect the user demand. The result could be an effective, simple user global “opt out” from user tracking, something privacy advocates have been seeking for years.

Participating publishers include The New York Times and The Washington Post. Digital Content Next, a trade association of quality digital publishers, also said it was part of the coalition. 

The effort, initially spearheaded by Ashkan Soltani (Georgetown Law) and Sebastian Zimmeck (Wesleyan University) now includes The New York Times, The Washington Post, Financial Times, Automattic (WordPress.com & Tumblr), Glitch, DuckDuckGo, Brave, Mozilla, Disconnect, Abine, Digital Content Next (DCN), Consumer Reports, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).






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W3C discussions about user data handling advances with another avian title: “PARRROT”; it would also put data on server or in cloud, not browser 

Maintaining an avian nomenclature, another major ad-tech company has joined the sweepstakes to figure out how consumer data should be (or not) collected and used in the post-third-party-cookie and post Apple IDFA environment ad “auction” to come. 

This time, the proposal is called “PARRROT” (with three r’s) and it seeks to compromise with web browser makers, who had initially suggested all user data handling would occur in the browser.  “We’ve reached peak bird acronyms with PARRROT from the @magnite team,” mused CafeMedia’s Paul Bannister in a Tweet. 

As reported by Privacy Beat last week,, the idea-du-semaine was “DoveKey,” which suggested the creation of a third-party gatekeeper to manage advertising “auctions” and user data. DoveKey, proposed by Google, modified TurtleDove, also proposed by Google, and Sparrow, proposed by engineers at ad-tech company Criteo.

PARRROT is an acronym for “The Publisher Auction Responsibility Retention Revision of TurtleDove,” as written by Brad Rodriguez, a developer at Magnite, in Los Angeles, the new name for major ad-tech company The Rubicon Project.  “ . . . [W]e think TurtleDove could be improved further by allowing the publisher to retain control of the auction.”

The back-and-forth is all playout in the W3C’s Privacy Community Group, which holds every-other-week Zoom-in that anyone can join and then posts public minutes. As a result a sort of professional rivalry among elements of the ecosystem is driving fresh ideas about how to find a balance between privacy and ad targeting that avoids opaque use of personal information for other unknown purposes. For example, this week, Bannister, of CafeMedia, outlined his new contribution to a proposal that would allow the sharing of user data across related websites using technologies like Single Sign On and a first-party cookie.  





There was plenty of coverage in the mainstream media this week when a committee of the House of Representatives released a long-awaited report on antitrust and the internet platforms. Here’s a sampling: 

Forthcoming book by ex-Googler forecasts crash of Internet platform stocks; claims ads don’t work 

A former Google artificial-intelligence executive’s book predicting the collapse of support for the current programmatic ad “targeting” system is attracting attention in advance of its Oct. 13 publication date.  

Wired.com’s Gilad Edelman’s long piece about Tim Hwang’s book, Subprime Attention Crisis, declares “The scariest thing about microtargeting ads is that they just don’t work.”  (See QUOTE OF THE WEEK, below)  Or as Hwang puts it in the book: “The whole edifice of online advertising is, in short, bunk.” Hwang is former director of the Harvard-MIT Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative, where he went after Google.

Hwang speculates what would happen if there were to be a mass loss-of-confidence in “attention”-type digital advertising, given that so much of the U.S. stock market value is tied up in such companies as Google/Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook.  On the other hand, where would those ad dollars go? In his review of the book, Wayne Friedman of MediaPost.com suggests a flocking back to television

“In this well-grounded, heretical attack on the fictions that uphold the online advertising ecosystem, Subprime Attention Crisis destroys the illusion that programmatic ads are effective and financially sound,” writes danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, founder of Data & Society, and Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. “One can only hope that this book will be used to pop the bubble that benefits so few.” 


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Key news industry exec urges support for Prop 24; proponents say 77% of state supports

Policy battle lines are becoming clearly as Nov. 3 approaches and California voters will cast ballots on the Prop 24 privacy initiative, the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA).  Supporters released a poll saying 77% of the state’s voters support the measure. 

The hardest line seems to be around the idealogy of whether to enable a monetary market for personal data.  Some privacy advocates are concerned that Prop 24 would strengthen the right of web services to charge extra for services if a user declines to allow the sale or sharing of their personal data.  The extra charge has to be reasonably related to the value of the declined data.   The argument is that this will disadvantage people who will have to “pay for privacy.”  

But this week, a prominent publishing industry executive, Jason Kint, head of Digital Content Next, took the opposition position aggressively, calling on publishers to support Prop 24 in part because of this provision.  He wrote an opinion piece at Vox/Recode headlined: “Google and Facebook hate a proposed privacy law. News publishers should embrace it.

In it, Kint writes:  

“News publishers are also increasingly interested in trying to sell subscriptions instead of relying on digital ads. CPRA can help there by letting publishers offer subscriptions to consumers who opt out of having their data shared with other parties. Some CPRA critics think this provision puts a price on “privacy.” I would argue that it gives news publishers the flexibility to decide on their own business model, and gives consumers an opportunity to understand how content gets funded. If they do not find it compelling enough, they are likely to seek out a competitive news service elsewhere. News publishers feel this tension every day. That’s why I think they will see healthy competition for consumers at various price points.”








In book out Oct. 13, ex-Googler Tim Hwang calls for regulation of ad-tech to enforce transparency and accountability; predicts possibility of collapse in platform valuations  

“Hwang proposes a publicity campaign by researchers, activists, and whistleblowers that exposes the sickness of the online ad market, followed by regulations to enforce transparency. Digital advertisers would have to make public, standardized statements to help buyers evaluate their wares. The goal would be to narrow the dangerous disconnect between perceived and actual value.

“The idea of applying stock-market-type regulations to the digital ad sector is having a bit of a moment. The antitrust scholar and former ad tech executive Dina Srinivasan makes a similar argument in a forthcoming paper, and has gotten the attention of at least one member of the House Antitrust Subcommittee. It’s fairly intuitive: A sprawling marketplace representing hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth probably shouldn’t remain an ungoverned free-for-all; and replacing today’s opaque, monopolistic market with a transparent, regulated one might lead to more innovation in ad targeting and more competitive pricing. But is that really what we’re going for—a better functioning, more effective market for behavioral targeting?

“Market correction, implemented on its own, won’t eliminate the pathologies of behaviorally targeted advertising: The pervasive surveillance of where you go, whom you know, how often you pee; the redistribution of billions of dollars in ad revenue away from news organizations and toward social media platforms and ad tech middlemen; the ability to microtarget political messaging to nudge swing state voters to stay home. Only legislation that outlaws the business model, or heavily disincentivizes it, will create room for more benign technologies to arise.”


Privacy Beat is a weekly email update from the Information Trust Exchange Governing Association in service to its mission. Links and brief reports are compiled, summarized or analyzed by Bill Densmore and Eva Tucker.  Submit links and ideas for coverage to newsletter@itega.org

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