Proposals have been announced by the European Commission for changes to the privacy rules surrounding electronic communications.
The ePrivacy Regulation is in addition to the General Data Protection Regulation and would give the regulator the power to fine offenders 4% of their income for breaching the rules.
A key change is the rule around cookies on websites, specifically the banners that a visitor has to click to accept or scroll past.
It is likely that websites will no longer need to display the cookie banners, and instead, users will manage their preferences in their browser settings.
Website managers might be thinking hurrah! But…
James Waterworth, vice-president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, is warning that for many companies who rely on funding from advertising or use ad networks, there may be a negative impact. If users only accept the least intrusive cookies (like saving shopping baskets and counting website visits) or allow no cookies at all, many internet businesses will no longer be able to operate as they currently do.
Tackling Internet Giants
The ePrivacy Regulation would extend to new electronic communication providers like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Gmail and Skype.
How these businesses track users and their behaviour in order to deliver targeted advertising for example, would be restricted, as users would have to give explicit permission.
Everyday internet users will need to be educated on what cookies are used for, so that they do not automatically reject all cookies in their browser settings. Apps have been developed to allow internet users to not see cookie banners at all, and there is a general feeling among web developers, researchers and even the ICO that cookies are not something the public is overly worried about.
The ICO received 210 concerns via its website about cookies between April 2015 and March 2016, but stresses that
“It is important to note that many of the concerns we received about cookies did not relate to individual sites or provide any information about specific instances of non-compliance.”
So whilst many website managers will be happy about the changes to the cookie law in terms of displaying banners, there are far reaching implications for businesses operating on the internet, using information collected through cookies to provide targeted information and advertising.