European Commission proposes changes for internet cookies

The European Commission has announced plans to change legislation surrounding the requirement for websites to alert users of any cookies placed on a user's device. The Commission also hopes to provide users with more control over the level of privacy-invading cookies that can be downloaded to a device. Whilst this measure would eliminate the amount of cookie request pop-ups experienced when browsing, concerns have been raised at its potentially harmful impact on advertising companies.

In a recent press release, Andrus Ansip - the European Commission's VP - claimed that the objective of any changes would be to reduce the "overload" of cookie-permission requests experienced by users. Ansip hopes any implemented legislation would grant everyone "more control of their settings" so that users "do not have to click on a banner every time they visit a website".

Since 2012, EU rules have stipulated that all websites must inform users on what cookies are being downloaded onto their machine, prompted by the massive and unrestrained collection of personal data, which was sold to advertising companies to target shoppers after their visit. Internet Cookies are small text files that enable websites to keep track of user preferences. They are generally used to tailor website information to each individual, such as providing an online shopping cart history or remembering a user's location. The Commission hopes the proposed legislation would allow users to adjust their cookie preferences as they see it.

For example, a user could set a maximum level of cookie information permitted to be stored on their internet browser - such as allowing only the most minimal of cookies, whilst rejecting third-party advertising tracking. This measure builds upon the Commission's stronger privacy protections it hopes to provide its citizens.

According to the BBC, the Commission outlined some key ideas that could be implemented for better privacy regulation in its latest proposal report:

  • Users would set their consent on cookies through "software applications enabling accessing to the internet", a move experts said could apply to browsers but also mobile apps

  • Tougher rules on how messaging services, such as WhatsApp, Skype, Gmail and Viber, track users

  • Email services, such as Gmail and Hotmail, would not be able to scan emails to serve targeted ads without users' explicit permission

According to Ansip, users who activate maximum-protection level cookie settings would continue to receive advertising, just not advertising that is personal to them:

“If you set a high level of protection, it doesn’t mean you won’t get ads. But you’ll get more boring ads. If you set it lower, you get more customized ads, more relevant ads, and that’s not always bad"

Despite this claim, there persists a major concern amongst elite representatives for internet firms that giving user's this level of cookie-preference control would inevitably harm websites. James Waterworth, one such executive, warned the BBC that "If this is done wrong and it's much harder to obtain permission [to use internet cookies], then it could have a serious impact on ad-funded services". Indeed, revenue from advertising companies is a key source of income for the majority of websites - including online newspapers and social media platforms big and small.

Source: European Commission via BBC News|Image of The Flag of Europe via SpaceNews

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