New EU privacy rules proposed

11 January 2017

BRUSSELS: The European Commission is proposing new privacy legislation that will see rules extended from traditional telecoms operators to include new providers of electronic communications services, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype and Gmail.

Announcing the measures, the Commission said that "the proposal aligns the rules for electronic communications with the new world-class standards of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation".

From an online advertising perspective, consent will be required when websites look to place cookies on users' devices in order to track web-browsing habits and deliver targeted ads.

"It's up to our people to say yes or no," according to Andrus Ansip, Commission vice-president for the Digital Single Market.

While the new rules will allow users to be more in control of their settings, the proposal also states that "no consent is needed for non-privacy intrusive cookies improving internet experience (e.g. to remember shopping cart history)". Additionally, "Cookies set by a visited website counting the number of visitors to that website will no longer require consent".

But in a cross-device media environment, a growing number of marketers regards a cookie-based approach as irrelevant, with the emphasis shifting towards a people-based approach which delivers better results.

The Financial Times further noted that media companies will be able to ban online readers using ad blocking software, as the Commission clarified a legal grey area.

As websites are required to ask for permission to "access" a device, it has been argued that the technology used to detect an ad blocker amounts to "access" and is therefore illegal, but the Commission has proposed that simply detecting an ad blocker does not need consent.

Ansip conceded that this interpretation would be criticised by "people who want free access and couldn't care [about] editorial costs", but, he insisted, "legal clarity is needed".

Data sourced from European Commission, Financial Times, Reuters; additional content by Warc staff