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A massive push on securing opt-ins from consumers on cookies is well under way both here and in the US.

For the record, and contrary to what you might think, I’m glad, if only because it forces us to review how we failed so badly to keep the wider world informed about how online advertising works.

I’ve been interested in the issue of cookies for longer than I care to remember. I published a research paper back in 2004 identifying that 30% of cookies are deleted by users and this helps us understand the backdrop from a user perspective to recent moves by regulators to ensure the digital industry gains fully-informed opt-in on tracking.

You see, if users do know what cookies do, they are prone to getting rid of them. That their decision is likely ill-informed is irrelevant for, while we failed to take the initiative on educating end users about what online tracking actually means in our desperate chase for ad budgets, the debate on cookies has now been taken out of our hands.

All tracking is required to be opt-in in the UK by April 2011 and the FTC in the US is pushing for similar legislation over there. What, practically speaking, that means is still unclear. Will an all-encompassing opt-in on browser start-up be enough? Or are we really expected to get a ‘yes’ from a user every time we want to drop a cookie? If the former, we should be okay – if the latter, we’re in real trouble.

TagMan’s position is clear: we offer a global opt-out for consumers to all tracking in our own marketing and enable our advertiser clients, through our container tag, to do exactly the same. We also encourage them to be clear and transparent about how and why visitors are tracked. However, we are but an enabler and fully understand the reluctance to help users duck out of the targeting that makes online an ever-more effective marketing universe.

But, the industry has clearly not fought the ‘it’s for their own good!’ argument hard or well enough. If we are to avoid an implementation of the newly beefed-up privacy regulations that would fundamentally undermine the entire online advertising ecosystem, we must start now. We can all help in this process ourselves, by rewriting our privacy policies so that they are clear about what information is collected and how it is used and then promoting that information more clearly to end users.

We’re pretty happy with the way our privacy policy explains why and how users are tracked, though we’d love to hear if you have come across better ways of doing this. In the meantime, we should all be considering just how to keep the end-users of all the wonders of the web educated about how that content is provided.

Paul Cook

Published 25 March, 2010 by Paul Cook

Paul Cook, the founder of RedEye and TagMan, is a contributor to Econsultancy.  

28 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Sam Lempriere

Hopefully this is done at browser set-up level, otherwise, without a massive bout of education, cookies will get refused by most IMO. BA have an interesting policy - if you do not accept our cookies, you can't use our site. Sounds harsh but it is one way of showing users that cookies are required for certain web functionality.

over 6 years ago

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Tony Evans, Corporate Development Director at Crimtan

I think you are misrepresenting the case when you state that "All tracking is required to be opt-in in the UK by April 2011". The forthcoming ePrivacy Directive allows that browser settings count as a user 'opt-in' See paragraph 66 "...the user’s consent to processing may be expressed by using the appropriate settings of a browser or other application”. In other words, unless you actively change your browser settings to block cookies, you have consented.

For publishers and their ad tech suppliers (including behavioural targeting companies using tracking coookies) the established practice, supported by the IAB and their Good Practice Principles for Behavioural Advertising, of notice (tell users you use cookies in your privacy policy)and choice/consent (provide an opt-out and explain how to avoid/delete cookies) will still apply.

over 6 years ago

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kcheung

All tracking is required to be opt-in in the UK by April 2011 - i somewhat doubt this would be feasible. having once tried to block all cookies on a 'surf' opting into each and very cookie on a given site would be hellish to say the least, whilst consumers may be aware of cookies, they aren't as enlightened as we are on what cookies do or what specific cookies are. it would be unmanagable to force consumers and web users to opt-in to cookies so this is a storm in a tea cup. 30% of cookies are deleted by users - i question this statistic, one has to question, what cookies and what type of users as well as why users are deleting cookies. if this data was gathered from loyalty/cashback affiliate site consumers, then the logic is they are clearing their cookies so that the cookies dropped by their loyalty site of choice take precedence and they as the consumer gain their cashback.

over 6 years ago

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