Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

European Laws Target Computer 'Cookies,' but Is Compliance Already Crumbling?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

European Laws Target Computer 'Cookies,' but Is Compliance Already Crumbling?

Article excerpt

As global concern over cyber identity sleuthing by commercial interests grows, the European Union (EU) has taken the lead in controlling computer cookies. Will it disrupt Internet commerce?

Resisting a chocolate chip cookie is a dieter's nightmare. But fighting unwanted digital "cookies" - the little text files that allow web sites to track your computer activity - is the new coin of the digital realm.

As global concern over cyber identity sleuthing by commercial interests grows, the European Union (EU) has taken the lead on the issue. Wednesday was the deadline for compliance with the first government-sanctioned "cookie laws" designed to give consumers the ability to choose whether to be tracked in their digital lives.

The 27 countries of the EU were supposed to begin implementing laws allowing any EU-based user the right to opt-in to being tracked. But compliance with the cookie law has been anything but sweet.

Depending on the definition of compliance, as few as two countries and maybe as many as nine have actually indicated an effort to require companies to provide an opt-in mechanism for EU- based consumers. The UK is complying, sort of, issuing a year's grace period for UK firms to devise strategies to meet the requirements of the new law.

"I'm sure the intention is good," says partner Bridget Treacy, speaking by phone from the London offices of Hunton & Williams, ranked by Computerworld magazine as the top law firm for privacy and data security.

But, she adds, "It is not very practical to implement," adding that there is a "real question as to whether it will actually enhance data protection. "

One big obstacle is the sheer technical complexity of allowing users to opt-in to every cyber "cookie" a site may want or even need to place on a user's hardware. There are different kinds of cookies (besides chocolate chip and oatmeal).

Advertisers track your buying habits

Roughly divided into what are known as first and third parties - for host site packets versus advertisers - these little files can do everything from keep track of that silk scarf you slipped into your online shopping basket until you get to checkout to following you as you wander from one web site to another. …

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