The European Parliament – legislative body of the European Union – today considers a bill which could ban spam (unsolicited email) and cookies (which collect information on web surfers).

The debate over spam focuses on whether marketers should gain ‘prior consent’ from individuals before emails are sent, a provision favoured by many member governments as well as the European Commission, which drafted the bill. ‘Prior consent’ is opposed by industry groups, which argue it would inhibit advertising and hinder the development of new services.

Opinion among parliament members is split fairly evenly. Liberals and conservatives are divided over the issue, while socialist and Green MEPs tend to support a ban. Whichever way they vote, the bill must undergo more scrutiny by member governments and then return to parliament again before it becomes law.

‘Prior consent’ is also an issue in the debate over cookies (files used by websites to store details on users and track web surfing) since they gather information without users’ permission. However, Angela Mills, executive director of the European Publishers Council, warned this week that a restriction on cookies could hinder the internet’s development, as surfers would have to reregister whenever they visited a site.

Unsurprisingly, business groups prefer self-regulation to an outright ban. “We feel legislation should provide minimum standards and let companies compete to provide higher standards,” explained Marie-Therese Huppertz, a lobbyist for Microsoft. Such interests favour an ‘opt-out’ scheme, as exists in the US, where consumers must ask to be removed from mailing lists.

Watch this space!

News source: Wall Street Journal