Julian Moskov :: My Online Marketing Blog

The Elephant In The Room: European e-Privacy Directive

Posted in Work by Julian on March 25, 2011

The recent success and widespread use of of remarketing has certainly lead to some annoyance with its smart but creepy banners. Here’s an example from Twitter:

Together with hightened privacy concerns and debates around the policies of Facebook, Google Street View and others, it is hardly surprising that regulations are being proposed. The use of customer behaviour data has been reviewed and our European friends have decided to make cookies strictly opt-in. So as of 25 May, webmasters will will need to obtain prior and explicit consent for using cookies before deploying them on visitors’ machines. Here is an extract from the directive:

“…on condition that users are provided with clear and precise information…about the purposes of cookies… Users should have the opportunity to refuse to have a cookie or similar device stored on their terminal equipment.”

Full text available here.

It is now up to Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to translate this EU piece of law into practical regulations for the UK. They may not be ready in time for 25 May, which is just as well since UK e-commerce seems completely unprepared. We use cookies to store baskets, provide recommendations, track revenue, remarket, MVT, gather analytics, etc. It is almost unimaginable to continue trading successfully without cookies in their current form, not without serious technical changes. Maybe this is why we’re so far ignoring the elephant in the room and sticking our heads in the sand.

So what does the EU want to see from online reatilers? To start with, we will need to update T&Cs and provide detailed information about use of cookies. But obtaining consent from visitors can be a less pleasant experience – as this example on David Naylor’s blog shows :)

While we’re unlikely to ditch cookies completely, it is clear that visitors will need more control. And it could be a case of browsers to the rescue. Having easily accessible controls for blocking individual, first and third-party cookies within the browser could be just the solution to make the European bureaucrats happy. Alternatively, centralised tag management systems like Tagman can help with on-site controls.

To me the whole cookie business is a response to the aggressive comercialisation of the web and people’s reaction against it. But it is not up to the EU to “correct” us. Surely, it will be those companies that strike a good balance (set frequency caps, do not resell data, etc) that will prosper naturally. It is exactly events like the recent Facebook scandals that will correct our ways in the long run. Either that, or Internet users will get used to it all over time. Still, it is not about what I think, but what the DCMS thinks – and that we’ll find out shortly. Keep your eyes peeled, eCommerce chums!

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2 Responses

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  1. Dylan Wanigasekera said, on April 19, 2011 at 10:14 am

    I am not in too much fear about this, as deleting all cookie capapbility will really wiht the current systems. Also Google, will never be able to back this, as they are investing heavily into remarketing, and they will not take this lying down.

    The EU legislation suggests that browsers need to give consent but the UK has ruled that as long as the majority of browsers support turning cookies off (which they do) then existing privacy policies that tell people about it are sufficient. Mostly because turning cookies off will break 90% of web applications, whether they are behavioural advertising platforms or … Facebook.

  2. Online Marketing said, on July 31, 2011 at 6:23 pm


    I agree with you that cookie business is a response to the aggressive commercialization of the web………….


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