March 8, 2011

European Laws To Change Web Marketing

European laws will dictate on May 25 that "explicit consent" must be gathered from Web users who are being tracked through text files known as "cookies."

These files are widely used to help users navigate faster around sites they visit regularly.

Businesses are being urged to sort out how they get consent so they can keep on using cookies.

The European e-Privacy directive demanded the changes, which comes into force in the U.K. in late May.

The section of the directive dealing with cookies was drawn up in an attempt to protect privacy and limit how much use could be made of behavioral advertising.

This form of marketing involves people being tracked across websites.

The IAB, which is an industry body that represents web ad firms, created a site that explains how behavioral advertising works and lets people opt out of it.

The directive demands that users be fully informed about the information being stored in cookies and told why they see particular adverts.

The directive specifically excludes cookies, which log what people have put in online shopping baskets.

The directive is likely to have an impact on the more general use of cookies that remember login details and enable people to speed up their use of sites they visit regularly.

It may mean that after May 25, users could see more pop-up windows and dialogue boxes asking them to allow sites to gather data.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is drawing up the exact steps that businesses have to go through to comply with the law and gain consent from users.

A spokesman for the DCMS said that work on the regulations was "ongoing" but that the technique solutions would not be completed by May 25.

Ed Vaizey, minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, said in a statement that he recognized that the delay would "cause uncertainty for businesses and consumers."

"Therefore we do not expect the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to take enforcement action in the short term against businesses and organizations as they work out how to address their use of cookies," he added.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: "I cannot bark at the industry at the moment because I have not got the regulations."

However, Graham stressed that the government's confession that the regulations will be delayed should not be a spur to inaction.

"My message is that this is not your 'get out of jail free' card," he said.

Graham said in his statement that the response to complaints about firms that flout the directive will be viewed in light of what they have done to prepare for it.

He said that businesses should be considering how they will communicate with customers to get consent, and look at the technical steps that might make that process easier.

Early work by the ICO suggests that gathering consent by changing settings on browsers may not be sophisticated enough for the demands of the directive.

"They have to think seriously about this," Graham said in a statement. "It's going to happen and it's the law."


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