EU to Web companies: "Sort out privacy by 2012, or else!"

The European Digital Agenda Commissioner tells the Web industry to come up with do-not-track standards

The European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda has told Web companies to come up with a do-not-track standard by mid-2012, or the Commission will have to impose new rules.

Commissioner Neelie Kroes said that a failure to agree on a workable standard would have consequences for the Web industry as well as consumers. "I am worried by what we see happening: data breaches affecting thousands if not millions; social networking sites rolling out new features with very open default settings; exposure and identity theft. One target of the Digital Agenda is to have 50 percent of Europeans buying online by 2015. We will not reach this without reinforcing trust and confidence," she said.

Drafts for a do-not-track (DNT) standard already exist and advertising associations EASA and IAB Europe recently adopted a best practice recommendation and framework on behavioral advertising. Their approach consists of an icon on each targeted ad, together with an information website that allows users to switch off behaviorally targeted display ads from any participating company.

In addition, the new so-called "Cookies Directive," part of the latest Telecoms Package, came into force last month. But the majority of E.U. member states failed to meet the deadline to transpose the directive into national law. Under the directive, companies must obtain "explicit consent" from Web users before storing cookies as well as giving consumers information on what the data collected is to be used for.

But cookies are not the only way to track individuals online. Browser add-ons and the "fingerprinting" of browser configurations also need to be taken into account said Kroes. "This is why a broader approach needs to be taken on the subject of DNT technologies. DNT is already deployed in some web browsers. And some Web businesses say they honor it. But this is not enough. For example, there is an important difference between a commitment not to record tracks and a commitment not to use them for a specific purpose once recorded," she concluded.

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