Sunday, June 26, 2011

Privacy Law and the EU Internet Cookie Law Opt-Out Option Deadline: European Union Companies Given One Year by EU Commission to Standardize Cookie Tracking Consent Mechanism

As we previously reported at LawPundit, the European Union "EU Internet Cookie Tracking Law" came into effect on May 26 of this year (2011) via the 2009 EU Directive, protecting user privacy rights by requiring that users be informed by companies of the extent of their cookie tracking and be given the option to "opt out" of such tracking.

The practical problem of implementation has surfaced in the interim and Pinsent Masons LLP at Out-Law.com now reports that EU Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes, who is responsible for the "Digital Agenda" of the Commission, has stated that EU companies have a year to standardise cookie opt outs.

As written inter alia at Out-Law.com:
"In 2009 the EU's Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive was changed to demand that storing and accessing information on users' computers was only lawful "on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his or her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information … about the purposes of the processing"."
In practical terms, this law could mean that EU Internet users will be confronted by dialogue boxes giving them the option to opt out of cookie tracking by any website that they visit that utilizes cookie tracking features.

Of course, after users have initially made their opt-out viz. opt-in cookie tracking choice for websites and/or web pages they often visit where "essential" tracking cookies may be necessary (e.g. log-ins, online banking, other financial transactions, etc.), the law will in fact provide increased privacy protection to those who want it against cookie tracking by websites that use "non-essential" cookies principally for data mining (an example here would be a user online search for "sofas", after which online advertisements for "sofas" would more frequently be shown to that particular identifiable user by the advertising search engine or the websites he visits).

Internet cookies are of course not prohibited and an opt-out is arguably only required for "tracking cookies" by which the identity of the user is to be traced. The opt-out rule could however lead to the paradox that a special cookie may be required to record the specific user's opt-in or opt-out choice (!).

Otherwise, the user will have to opt-in or opt-out of cookie tracking every time he visits a cookie tracking website. It will be interesting to see how the industry tackles and solves this problem.

UPDATE:

I have just downloaded the Mozilla Firefox 5 browser and it has a privacy option check button that reads "Tell web sites I do not want to be tracked". That looks like a more global solution to the opt-in opt-out problem, though of course websites are not bound by this choice. That the Firefox 5 update, however, cluelessly deactivates my much-used Google Toolbar from Firefox 4 is however a source of considerable ire as the people at Firefox -- just as at Microsoft -- still do not get it that the USER should decide what he wants, not some dreamy-eyed programmer in Neverland. I am still trying to figure out how to get the old MS Paint XP or Vista version running on Windows 7 rather than the impossibly re-programmed new "ribbon version" which is as good as useless for any serious pixeling MS Paint user. When in doubt, provide the user with OPTIONS !!!

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