HALF BAKED proposals for web browser cookie regulation have left the European Union (EU) mired in disagreement.
Last year, the EU passed a law that requires companies to obtain consent from web users before they can track files such as cookies on users' computers. Such a law is welcome, but the realities of putting it into practice have come back to bite the EU as nations, lawmakers, advertisers, Internet firms and privacy advocates are unable to agree on the terms.
Questions about what constitutes user agreement and whether each and every cookie requires user agreement are all topics of contention. Regulators have said there will be guidance by early next year. They don't have long, as the EU's 27 member nations are supposed to codify the law into national laws by May. That in itself could lead to problems as different countries might place their own interpretations on the law resulting in a regulatory nightmare.
Cookies are text files kept on users' machines in order to store information that is typically used by websites and advertising companies to track users. The regulation of cookies has alarmed advertisers, because it would bring awareness of web user tracking to a lot of people who previously have been oblivious to the activity.
The UK has signaled that it will consider users' web browser settings sufficient to indicate consent for cookies to be stored on their machine.
The law will have implications for not just advertisers but also websites that rely on cookies in order to operate. Even Microsoft, which faces the possibility of having to modify its Internet Explorer web browser is talking sense, with John Vassallo, the Vole's legal counsel in Brussels saying, "in the end, what matters is harmonised rules across Europe." For once, we agree with what Microsoft is saying.
It is likely that the arguing about cookies will continue right up until the deadline of May 2011. Internet firms and advertisers must hope that conflicts will result in the EU member states giving up. µ
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