Saturday 14 December 2019

How the future cookie crumbles

"A host of media brands publishers have complained that the legislation will hamper their ability to make money online."
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

Last November research from McCann Fitzgerald and Mazars found that three-quarters of Irish businesses weren't ready for the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Hopefully, they've got to grips with it in the intervening months, because straight after the GDPR there's another curveball coming from the EU.

It's the ePrivacy regulation. While GDPR aims to strengthen and unify data protection for all EU citizens, ePrivacy focuses more on specific communications. As a result, it has even more potential to cause headaches for the digital media and advertising industries.

Why? Because the new directive means that businesses operating in Europe must get explicit consent to use cookies. These are small files that websites leave on browsers that them to remember your preferences.

They also facilitate those creepy ads that follow you around the web. But the new directive means that users must be given clear opportunities to opt out.

A host of media brands publishers have complained that the legislation will hamper their ability to make money online. And the World Federation of Advertisers have warned that restrictions on cookies may impact innovation, jobs and growth. But they would say that, wouldn't they?

Marju Lauristin, is a former Estonian Minister for social affairs, and former MEP who was the European Parliament's rapporteur for the ePrivacy Directive. She was in Dublin last week to discuss ePrivacy at an event hosted by McCann Fitzgerald and the Institute of International and European Affairs.

She is bullish when asked if new regulation will prevent legitimate business practices that allow advertisers to reach online consumers and whether the new regulations balance the needs of businesses against individuals' rights?

"I want to ask businesses why they feel that they are not obliged to find this balance," she says.

"Why do they think they should have free access to people's private lives, feelings, diseases and sexual inclinations to gain profit. People have the fundamental right to privacy. If businesses can sacrifice privacy for profit then that is a problem. People will gladly give consent to all kinds of contacts with businesses where they feel that it is good for them. And business will be obliged to clearly explain that value exchange."

The aim of the new legislation is to give the consumer full access to their information; control over the cookies stored in their browser and the ability to configure their devices according to their preferences.

Lauristin believes this will put European businesses in the vanguard of personal privacy. "With this legislation we've tried to motivate European businesses to develop technology and hardware that is privacy friendly by design," she says.

"This will become a competitive advantage. Remember 20 years back, green issues and ecological concerns around the composition food production? Who cared? Some fanatical greens. Now every consumer is informed. Mainly this is because European Union demanded high standards in food production and transparency around the composition of food. Similarly, we need European technology production to be privacy safe by design."

But the big question is, do consumers value their privacy? Or will they submit to surveillance capitalism if they get free, convenient services in return? Lauristin believes that attitudes vary from nation to nation.

"I come from a country which was under Soviet control," she says. "We knew every minute of our lives that there was someone tapping, someone listening, that our telephone calls were monitored. In these countries people are very sensitive. In other, happier countries, people don't have this experience. But I don't think we should wait for people in these countries to have unhappy experiences. We need to prevent them from happening."

But one big issue that's yet to be solved relates to how privacy is explained so that consumers immediately understand what they're agreeing to. "New language is needed," says Lauristin.

"It needs to be as simple as traffic lights. You shouldn't have to stop on the corner of the street, get out of the car and read five pages to understand where you can turn. There needs to be a yellow, green and red light and this has to happen on our information highways. People get tens maybe hundreds of these messages every day. It's not realistic to think that we can put all our privacy rules in text for people to read.

"And it's up to the service provider and not the consumer to find that language."

Sunday Indo Business

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