NEWS16 September 2010

UK government opens consultation on European web cookie rules

Europe Government

UK— A consultation is under way in the UK on implementing the European Union’s package of telecoms reforms, including amended rules on the use of web cookies.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills proposes to copy the wording of the relevant article, 5( 3 ), wholesale. It states that consent must be given before companies are allowed to place cookies on a web user’s computer or retrieve cookie information already stored there.

While the wording of the article is vague enough to have led various parties to interpret this as requiring an individual’s consent every time a cookie is used, the UK government points to Recital 66 of the amending Directive as providing “useful clarification”.

The recital says: “Where it is technically possible and effective, in accordance with the relevant provisions of Directive 95/46/EC, the user’s consent to processing may be expressed by using the appropriate settings of a browser or other application.”

In other words, and as previously stated by IAB Europe, “the control settings in a web browser such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera or Safari are sufficient to comply with the consent requirement in the legislation”.

Ian Twinn, director of public affairs for the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), said the UK government’s position was a “mature and sensible” interpretation of the article, though he warned that other EU member states might be more inclined towards a different, stricter interpretation – one that calls for consumers to explicitly opt in to receive cookies in all instances where the use of cookies is not strictly necessary for the provision of requested goods and services.

Certainly this was the view advanced by EU privacy watchdogs the Article 29 Working Party. For online advertisers such an interpretation would make ad tracking, targeting and audience segmentation – all of which rely on cookies – increasingly difficult or almost impossible.

The UK consultation is open until 3 December. EU member states have until May to implement the requirements of the telecoms reform package.