IAB damns ‘re-spawning’ of cookies as an act of evil

6 Oct 2010

A shady practice known as ‘re-spawning’ has attracted the ire of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Europe, which condemned the practice because it circumvents a user’s choice not to have cookies on their computer and erodes consumer trust.

IAB Europe is a trade group representing the online advertising industry across Europe and many of its members have developed tools to allow users to manage cookies on their machine. Cookies are pieces of software that are stored in a user’s web browser and can be used for authentication, storing site preferences or shopping cart contents.

Many users manage their cookies manually or automatically by way of web browser settings or use of other software applications (eg, management tools for Flash or Silverlight player, HTML5 database settings, security and privacy software). Users may often choose to delete cookies also used for online advertising – this remains a powerful and important consumer control.

Re-spawn of the devil

Last summer, a practice known as “re-spawning” was identified. Re-spawning describes a practice of automatically re-establishing a previously deleted cookie from a back-up copy. In IAB Europe’s view, re-spawning is clearly an unacceptable practice because it circumvents the users’ expressed choice not to have that cookie present on their machine.

IAB Europe also considers re-spawning to be illegal under existing European and national EU Member States’ Data Protection rules.

IAB Europe has called on all businesses and other bodies not to engage in re-spawning to bypass users’ expressed choices, and to take measures to address and/or eliminate re-spawning when they learn of its use, which could include referrals to IABs or data protection authorities for resolution.

In the context of behavioural advertising, the IAB Europe further called on businesses to use only technologies for behavioural advertising that provide the same level of consumer transparency as are currently provided for HTTP cookies.

“We work hard to protect lawful business practices across Europe and will not allow individual companies to jeopardise the trust and confidence that our membership has built with their European users,” Kimon Zorbas, VP, IAB Europe, said.

“Companies must respect users’ choices. In the connected internet, where websites collaborate with many third parties, such illegal practices pose a problem not only for one sector but for the entire online industry.

“The reputational damage of re-spawning to our industry is clear and we will act clearly and decisively when any such cases are brought to our attention to stamp out abuse of consumer trust,” Zorbas said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years