W3C advances privacy, graphics, language standards

A key Internet standards group edges toward agreement on a range of technical issues that could help Web users achieve privacy and disabled access goals.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
4 min read
As Web users headed to court this month to win industry concessions on privacy and disabled access, a key Internet standards group edged toward an agreement on a range of technical issues that could help achieve some of the same goals.

Members of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) met at a biannual meeting this month to review the last six months' progress, including developments in creating standards for Web accessibility and tools to give Web users more control over personal data.

Even as the group draws closer to finalizing key technical issues on both fronts, consumers apparently frustrated with the pace of change burst out this month in a flurry of lawsuits.

On Nov. 4, advocates for the blind sued America Online, charging that the online giant discriminates against the blind because its system is incompatible with software designed for visually impaired users.

In addition, users of RealNetworks' RealJukebox Net music player filed class-action lawsuits against the company in state and federal courts over alleged privacy abuses.

Although the suits are not aimed at W3C efforts, they underscore the growing importance of standards as more consumers head online.

The W3C has been working for some time to address technical issues relating to disabled access and privacy.

In May the group introduced guidelines that help Web page authors to support screen readers used by blind Net users, recommending that Web builders use text tags as alternatives to graphics, for example. This month the group brought those guidelines within one step of formal adoption.

Also this month, the W3C opened its proposed privacy standards to a final comment period.

A complete roundup of recent W3C actions is described below:

Web Accessibility Initiative
As part of its drive to make the Web more accessible to people with disabilities, the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative advanced a quartet of related tools and guidelines.

The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 became a proposed recommendation, the penultimate step in the W3C recommendation process. These guidelines show developers of Web authoring tools how to create software that people with disabilities can use. Accompanying the guidelines is a working draft of techniques for implementing them.

The User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 entered what the W3C calls "last call," a period for comment just before the granting of proposed recommendation status. These guidelines are for makers of browsers and of other tools for accessing Web content, such as cell phones or voice-activated user agents. The guidelines also come with a new working draft on techniques for implementation.

Privacy protocol
The Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) entered the last call stage, which will last an unusually long period of six months, the W3C said.

P3P, which lets Web users determine in advance what information they want to share with Web sites they visit, recently cleared a legal hurdle when lawyers for the W3C determined that a patent claim by push technology firm Intermind Communications would likely founder in court should Intermind try to enforce a patent claim against the W3C or against firms following its recommendation.

The legal question delayed the last call period, which was extended to encourage potential implementers to experiment with the technology, develop tools based on it and report back with their findings for the proposed recommendation, the W3C said. IBM, AT&T and NEC have already implemented some variations of the platform.

XML schemas
XML schemas, first introduced in May, are a new way of letting computers interpret languages and applications based on Extensible Markup Language (XML).

XML is a technology that Web and application developers can use to craft their own markup languages with special tags and functions. Schemas tell a computer reading an XML document how to interpret tags that are not universally recognized.

Schemas are meant to replace an existing technology called the Document Type Definition (DTD). Schemas are supposed to be a step up from DTDs because they are written in XML and support the use of XML namespaces, which let computers distinguish between similarly named tags from distinct XML-based languages that find their way into the same application.

The W3C posted the revised schema draft in two separate parts.

The W3C produced a new working draft of SMIL animation. The working draft is an outgrowth of Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL, pronounced "smile") Boston, which lets Web authors sync sound, text and other multimedia elements using simple tags rather than programming code. The animation outgrowth, which lets developers add animation to XML documents, will be developed in tandem with the W3C's efforts in scalable vector graphics.

Language characters
The W3C also published a new note for using XML to describe characters for various languages, aptly named Notation for Character Collections.