e-marketers face tough EU curbs

Key tools used by online marketers could be radically restricted by an updated EU data protection directive, according to the UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).

In a statement issued this week, the IAB says it expects proposals for the updated 1995 directive to be put before the European Parliament over the next few months, and permanent amendments to come into force by the end of the year.

The fear of overzealous legislation is heightened by the fact that the European Parliament is considering an EU directive (unrelated to the above) on processing personal data in the electronic communications sector. Known as the “ISDN directive”, it may change the rules for direct marketing by e-mail – from an opt-out to an opt-in system – as well as prohibiting the use of traffic data except for billing purposes.

Together, both directives “will change the legal framework within which online media and marketing operate,” says IAB chairman Danny Meadows-Klue.

If this legislation comes into effect, cookies would be treated as personal data. Cookies are used by websites for a broad range of reasons – from using it as a tool to personalise content, to maintaining open connections for live services. Restricting their use and scope in this way, says Meadows-Klue, would have wide-ranging implications, including:

– Traffic monitoring tools used by websites to analyse the behaviour of users will become unworkable and any data captured would have to be destroyed a few months later.

– Collecting user information (including contact details and e-mail addresses) from Web services that publicly display the data would be prevented. Data could only be collected with the explicit and continual consent of the user.

– All Web browser software would have to be set to reject cookies by default.

– All consumer mailings would be subject to a compulsory and explicit opt-in process.

Meadows-Klue adds: “This could make many websites simply unworkable.” He believes website owners and online advertisers should “explain why these initiatives are unworkable for the industry and undesirable for consumers.” He calls on IAB members to show their support for its EU lobbying efforts.

Further details can be found at the IAB’s website, www.iabuk.net.

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