Sunday, 29 May 2011

No cookies without consent

This week saw the implementation of the European privacy law requiring websites within the EU to obtain a visitor's consent to install a cookie in their browser. Seen anything different? No, thought not. As El Reg has it here, only Estonia and Denmark so far have transposed and implemented the new (but long time coming) EC measures. In the UK, businesses have been given one year to get their affairs in order, with no action to be taken against companies that ignore the rule within this period.

Trade associations and the industry have repeated mantra-like for some time that cookies are harmless and make the web work more efficiently. This is of course true; they help us fill in forms and remember preferences. However, we have witnessed a perversion of their use as they track our actions across the web so to profile our movements and dispositions for advertising purposes. This is an invasive use of cookies, if unasked for. We do not expect to be followed around the streets, nor to be eavesdropped upon in the pub.

It comes back to that ol' chestnut: consent. As The Open Rights Group here report, the prognosis does not look good as the new directive does include the word prior in its definition of consent. This has led the advertising industry and the UK government to argue that a user's browser setting might indicate consent, with Ed Vaizey stating in an open letter here that consent 'does not preclude a regulatory approach that recognises that in certain circumstances it is impracticable to obtain consent prior to processing'.

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I am director of the Media and Persuasive Communication (MPC) network at Bangor University where I also lecture on political-economy of the media. I am currently working on a book provisionally titled Deconstructing Privacy for Peter Lang and leading two empirical projects in connection with privacy perception and the use of new media for smoking cessation. I am author of Creativity and Advertising: Affect, Events and Process (Routledge, 2013); The Mood of Information: A Critique of Behavioural Advertising (Continuum, 2011); and Digital Advertising (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009). Please contact me at if you are interested in Ph.D supervision or consultancy services.