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What if you had to receive consent to place a cookie on a user's computer? As an online publisher or digital marketer, you might find it very difficult to operate.

But that's exactly what an amendment that will be voted on in the EU Parliament considers requiring.

Needless to say, the proposed amendment that would require cookie consent is meeting fierce opposition from online interests such as the IAB.

The vice president of IAB Europe, Kimon Zorbas, noted that privacy policies already required by law in the EU provide disclosures about cookies and tracking and he argues that "This amendment, if adopted, risks changing the way the Internet works today".

I'd agree. As Zorbas also mentions, users already have the ability to manage privacy settings and deny cookies through existing technology. Trying to fix something that isn't broken in an unfeasible manner, jeopardizing the user experience in the process, is ill-conceived. Many commonly-used applications employ cookies for a variety of techniques that are completely innocuous. From blogging platforms to shopping carts, I'm not sure the EU Parliament recognizes how much consent their proposed rule would require.

What's interesting to me is that the EU Parliament would seriously consider such a law following the implementation of the email and browsing history retention rules that just went into effect. These require ISPs to store basic details about their customers' email communications and browsing history.

All in the name of security, of course. The irony is that this law potentially creates even more security risks for consumers. As Neil Cook of message security firm Cloudmark pointed out, "Considering the sheer volume of high-profile security breaches hitting the headlines in the UK, the protection and storage of data is of paramount importance to an organisation".

If all this seems absurd to you, it seems absurd to me. Hopefully this proposed amendment will not pass and we can move on with a real discussion about consumer privacy on the internet with realistic policy suggestions.

Photo credit: alex.ch via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 April, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2403 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

It's madness. They've discussed it before and it got rejected. Hopefully it will this time too. If they do try and enact something we'll all just ignore it unless a court case shows its lunacy. And it will all have been a hugely worthwhile spend of taxpayers money...

over 7 years ago

David Iwanow

David Iwanow, SEO Product Manager at Marktplaats.nl

Ouch, ok so before sorting out their lost government records, missing defence computers and lost tax payer records they are chasing unicorns...

Cookies are the one part of the entire model that keeps the internet moving forward as a viable e-commerce/business model.  If you cannot track and analyse your website traffic to improve it for your visitors we might as well go back to making website decisions based on well bill in accounts says blue, and jane who sits on the board and im trying to impress wants red for buttons.

The users experience which can be tested with web analytics packages, which use cookies can find out that they were both wrong and yellow buttons generates the most sales for the company.

Looking at the time limits for 3rd party cookies might be something of value, but first-party cookies which solutions like Google Analytics and most websites use, have less value in the wrong hands. 

There are so many services, even Econsultancy that depend on cookies for logins and reporting for advertisers, but its going to be great for palm readers they will be the only source of your online marketing if this law is passed, or no-one company will operate a website targeting europe or hosted in europe.

over 7 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

I'll play devil's advocate here.

As web developers, we play too fast and loose with cookies.

All these sites loading eight javascripts and running three analytics packages.

If this law comes into effect, sites will to consider seriously how much of this crap to foist onto their visitors/customers.

over 7 years ago

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Mike Talbot

It seems to me that first party cookies are part of making an Internet site work - they are not really able to do anything more than recognise a return purchaser.  I think that the problem with third party cookies is well known, I understand that the average amount of time one lasts now is around 17 days before some package sniffs it out and deletes it. 

I'm all for stopping indiscriminate invasions of privacy, but there seem to be far more ways of that happening with ISP tracking, certainly that must have expressed permission or it will be a big invasion of privacy.  So I could support a requirement for permission on third party cookies, but anything wider is just a disaster waiting to happen.

over 7 years ago

David Iwanow

David Iwanow, SEO Product Manager at Marktplaats.nl

@alec ok so i agree, im running around 5-7 web analytics scripts on my own site but they all provide different pieces of information and some of the tools provide public facing visitor information so i would have thought that would be beneficial for the whole community.

@mike yes you are right, and some more advanced cms systems need to use cookies for every visitors because of their dynamic nature/inbuilt self optimisation...

I know that i can go out and buy your entire website browsing behaviour off your ISP, so how does this fit into the argument. btw this is very expensive so its only the large corporate clients who can often afford to know everything...

over 7 years ago

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