New Govt will need to decide on EU ‘cookies’ directive

9 Mar 2011

A new EU-wide law is set to make cookies crumble. But the lack of national guidelines on how website owners or marketers will be able to track users online with their consent could have a devastating impact on Europe’s emerging internet industry.

A spokesman for the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland told that the matter is a decision for the new coalition Government.

From the end of May, a new EU ePrivacy Directive comes into force and one of the rules is a ban on cookies – pieces of software online that advertisers use to track consumer behaviour – unless users have given their consent.

The problem is no one in any country in Europe seems to have consulted with the internet industry or discussed with companies alternative ways of serving consumers without having to ask their permission every time a user clicks on a European webpage.

There are fears this could have a debilitating effect on European internet companies who have to compete in a global marketplace.

The directive was drawn up in an attempt to protect privacy and limit how much use could be made of behavioural advertising. It demands that users be informed about the information being stored in the cookies. It doesn’t, however, address the use of cookies to enable users to remember passwords on sites they visit regularly, for example.

Impact on the internet industry

I asked the Data Protection Commissioner’s office if it would be overseeing how Ireland-based websites will implement changes to ensure they get consumer permission before tracking them with cookies?

A spokesman for the Data Protection Commissioner explained the ‘cookies’ directive will amend the ePrivacy Directive and will be transposed by means of an amendment to the ePrivacy Regulations.

“Though the current draft regulations indicate that we will have an oversight role, it is nevertheless a matter for the Government to make a final decision in that regard.

“The regulations may be expected to apply to the processing of personal data in connection with the provision of any publicly available electronic communication services in public communications networks in the State.”

I asked the commissioner’s office what does this mean for the major internet companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, for example, who have major operations in Ireland and whose job it is to serve Europe and the rest of the world.

“In so far as any major internet company is deemed to be established in the state, the regulations will apply to their processing in Ireland, including in regard to the use of cookies.

“In regard to large companies such as those mentioned, it will be important that the measures are implemented consistently across the EU member states.

“To that end, the commission is taking steps to assist member states in their interpretation of the provisions,” the spokesman said.

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