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EU laws will require websites to get consent for cookies

David Ludlow
8 Mar 2011
EU laws set to make website cookie use more transparent
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You’ll have to explicitly say that you want to accept a tracking cookie

Cookies are a major concern to a lot of web users, but a new EU law coming into place from 25 May will make their use more transparent for users.

Originally designed to hold some basic information on users visiting a website, say to remember preferences, cookies have morphed into devices that can track users through the web, targeting advertising based on what content they’ve viewed.

Under the new European e-Privacy directive, businesses will have to be more open and transparent about how they use the technology and will have to get consent from users to deploy tracking cookies. Users will have to be given complete information about what’s being stored in cookies and told why they’ll see certain adverts.

While this appears good news on one front, the directive has opened up a whole can of worms about how cookies are deployed and used, not to mention how the internet is funded.

From an advertising point of view tracking cookies can be used by a single ad network to store information on the types of site and content that a user has visited. This information can then be used to target advertising of similar products and services at them on different websites. The general result is a better response from an ad campaign and more money earned by a website. Given that websites generally don’t have any other source of income, advertising by this method is very important.

On the other hand, people don’t like to be tracked through the internet and have details of the sites they visit stored even if the information is stored anonymously. However, we’re not entirely convinced that the new directive is currently a better plan, though. It's bound to end up with a visit to a website causing lots of pop-up windows asking for consent, making EU websites irritating to visit.

For this reason, the government is telling UK businesses to think carefully about how they want to implement the new regulations. Due to the confusion about the system, it's unlikely that there'll be any enforcement actions any time soon.

"Revisions to the e-Privacy Directive will provide consumers with more choice and control over their internet experience. But at the same time we need to make sure these changes do not make using the internet more difficult," said Ed Vaizey, the minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries.

Acknowledging that these changes could take a while to implement, Vaizey wanted to make sure that businesses know that the government is going to give them time to do it properly.

"We recognise this could cause uncertainty for businesses and consumers. Therefore we do not expect the ICO to take enforcement action in the short term against businesses and organisations as they work out how to address their use of cookies," said Vaizey.

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