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Controversial EU law bans unauthorized cookies

cookie_with_biteOn May 25, a new European Union law will require all websites to get the “explicit consent” of viewers any time information is stored on their computers using text files called “cookies,” which are often used to track web usage, and deliver relevant advertising, reports the BBC.

The law is designed to inform web users that they are being tracked, and to give them more control over who can or cannot access their browsing habits. In addition, the directive requires that users be informed about what information is being stored and told why they see the ads that they do.

Because cookies are also used to store log-in information, however, the controversial law may be more of a hassle than the average Internet user is prepared to endure.

For businesses, the law is even more troubling. Browsing information garnered from cookies stored on users’ computers is regularly used to calculate which ads to display to a particular user. By banning the automatic installation of cookies, this online advertising technique could potentially be rendered useless.

Since online advertising won’t just magically disappear, some expect an explosion of pop-up windows and dialog boxes asking for users’ permission to track their web data — which is arguably bad for both users and businesses.

Another problem with the law, some say, is that what constitutes user “consent” is vague, thought the EU Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) says work defining the regulations of the law are “ongoing.”

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report last December that argued for the need “to create better tools to allow consumers to control the collection and use of their online browsing data.” As yet, no law has yet been considered to require the use of such tools.

While providing uninformed web users about how their personal browsing information is used is a perfectly legitimate undertaking, there are ways to do so without passing problematic legislation.

There are a number of “do not track” services available, including extensions for both Google’s Chrome browser and Mozilla’s Firefox, which allow users to permanently stop advertisers from monitoring their browsing data, all without government intervention.

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