Ireland ensures EU cookies rules won’t crumble digital economy

8 Jul 2011

By shifting cookie consent from web pages into browsers instead, Irish legislators have taken a clever pro-business approach to transposing a difficult EU directive that could yet have a ruinous effect on Europe’s emerging internet industries.

New EU rules require website owners or marketers to gain user consent if they plan to use cookies. Cookies are pieces of software that advertisers use to track consumer behaviour.

Under the new rules that have been transposed into Irish law, all websites must have user consent – “opt in” – before they place a cookie onto the user’s computer. They must provide the user with clear and prominently displayed information about the cookie, particularly as to its purpose.

While the laws exist to protect consumers, they may result in European websites being difficult to navigate and in turn may drive consumers to websites from other geographies.

Fears of over regulation of the internet

But, according to Philip Nolan, head of commercial at law firm Mason Hayes + Curran, Irish legislators have actually taken a visionary approach to the problem: put the consent request into the internet browser settings rather than creating onerous web pages or applications to gain the consent.

Each country in Europe by now will have transposed the directive into their own laws and will have interpreted the directive differently.

“By putting the opt-in request into the settings of browsers like Safari, Explorer or Chrome, rather than requiring businesses to create multiple pages, it makes the web experience more feasible. Some of the new browsers have that kind of functionality available, whereby they flag to users that cookies are being placed, do you want to receive them or reject them?

“Thankfully, Ireland took this step. It has struck the ideal balance between the concerns of users and the concerns of businesses.

“This will serve the country well from the point of view of attracting overseas internet investors as well as helping indigenous businesses to trade online. Ireland has avoided taking the option of over regulating the internet and creating unduly onerous requirements for consent.

“I am confident that countries like Germany or France may not take such a pro-business approach,” Nolan said.

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