Gov’t says UK will take “opt out” approach to behavioural ads

The Government says it will implement new EU legislation on behavioural advertising in the UK by allowing users to opt out from organisations taking data from their computers.


Online adverts across Europe will need to display a recognisable clickable icon so users can access more information about how companies will use their data through the process of cookies. It will allow consumers to refuse companies access to that data.

However, the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) says a “one size fits all” solution will not be appropriate for the UK. This referred to the EU’s recommendations for users to opt-in to cookies, rather than the opt-out approach.

As a result, the DCMS is setting up a second industry working group to assess other options available within the EU guidelines.

The Government says, due to the complicated nature of behavioural targeting, it will try to mitigate the effects of the new EU directive by not taking enforcement action on offenders in the short term to give advertisers time to address their cookie policies.

The DCMS says it recognises that the internet would be “severely restricted” without the use of cookies.

The Department also acknowledged concerns from businesses that an “opt in” approach to the way they collect customer data would have a negative impact on businesses because the majority of consumers would refuse to receive behavioural advertising.

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey says: “We recognise that work on the technical solutions for cookie use will not be complete by the implementation deadline. It will take time for meaningful solutions to be developed, evaluated and rolled out.

“Therefore we do not expect the Information Commissioner’s Office to take enforcement action in the short term against businesses and organisations as they work out how to address their use of cookies.”

Browser manufacturers, such as Microsoft and Google, will work with the Government to discuss if browser settings can be enhanced to present users with clear information about importing cookies on their computers in order to meet the requirements of the revised directive.

The Government’s announcement follows a five-month consultation period assessing the impact of the revisions to the EU Electronic Communications Framework that will be implemented from 25 May.

In reaction to the announcement, online advertiser body ISBA says the Government’s decision to use an opt-out rather an opt-in rule on cookies is a “victory for common sense”.

ISBA’s director of public affairs Ian Twinn says: “Strict interpretation of the EU ePrivacy Directive would have closed down or seriously curtailed many commercial uses of the online economy, disrupting users’ experience not just online but across all digital platforms.”

James Mullock, head of the privacy and data protection practice at law firm Osborne Clarke, points out that the Government’s statement “is also an implicit acknowledgement that the technology is clearly not ready yet. So the pressure is really now on the technology industry to come up with a solution that works online.”

He adds: “The government is basically buying time, they are desperate to avoid too harsh an implementation of the directive. The fact is they are going to cross reference with an industry group to try and get the browser route into compliance shape.”

The Advertising Standards Authority will handle any complaints about behavioural advertising, it was confirmed earlier this week.

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