educational

EU Moves Ahead to Control Cookies

Stephen Yagielowicz

If you had to click “I accept” each time a site you visited tried to lay a cookie on you, would you? More than an academic question, such a requirement appears to be coming to U.K.-based websites on May 25, as they adopt the European e-Privacy directive.

How does this move affect website users, admins and affiliates?

This is a problem which will inevitably impact startups and lesser-known companies that may not enjoy a high-level of brand familiarity amongst consumers.

From the user’s perspective, the new requirements are intended to increase personal privacy, including revealing how behavioral tracking influences content and advertising. The cost of this newfound knowledge, however, will include endless legal boilerplate text and checkboxes standing between users and the web experience they’ve come to expect.

According to experts, the directive will impact the widespread use of cookies, such as those that remember a user’s login details as a means of speeding up their website access, with some common features no longer being offered by some sites, as well as a dramatic increase in the number of dialogue boxes and popup windows used to solicit the viewer’s explicit permission to let the website gather data on their visit.

This full disclosure of cookie use includes requiring disclaimers as to why a specific advertisement was shown — i.e. due to behavioral, geographic or other targeting means, as well as providing an easy opt-out mechanism.

The problems for site admins and owners are even more profound.

“It clearly makes U.K. companies less competitive because sites we build will need to be plastered with warnings — and our competitors will not,” Tweetmeme CEO Nick Halstead told TechCrunch. com. “It is a well known fact that at each stage of a signup process you lose customers.

“If you have to have a big warning sign just for a cookie that will remember you for purely convenience so that it keeps you logged in, the user won’t read that detail — they will just think you’re a privacy nightmare and won’t sign up.”

This is a problem which will inevitably impact startups and lesser-known companies that may not enjoy a high-level of brand familiarity amongst consumers.

It may also be a major problem for affiliates, many of whom depend on cookie-based code tracking to ensure proper referral crediting — and thus, their income.

Acknowledging that the new directive will “cause uncertainty for businesses and consumers,” Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries minister Ed Vaizey emphatically stated that “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 Internet cookies.”

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham warned website owners against interpreting this stance as a reason for inaction or non-compliance, however, stating that “My message is that this is not your ‘get out of jail free’ card.”

“[Website owners] have to think seriously about this,” Graham added. “It’s really going to happen and it’s the law.”

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