UK businesses get cookie amnesty

The government has detailed what it expects from industry use of web-tracking programs, in the light of European regulations
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Upcoming European regulations on the use of web-tracking technology by businesses have been accepted by the UK government, but will not be enforced in the short term.

IE9 tracking protection

The UK government has accepted European regulations on web-tracking technology, which is being countered by do-no-track options in browsers such as IE9.

The regulations are expected to be approved by the UK Parliament in time for the EU deadline of 25 May, but businesses will not be required to obey the new rules for the time being, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said on Friday.

"The technical solutions aren't ready," a DCMS spokesman told ZDNet UK. "We wouldn't expect the Information Commissioner's Office to take enforcement action while the work on the technical solutions is ongoing."

Changes to the EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive would mean that UK businesses must gain consent to store or access cookies on users' computers. The government has not yet put secondary legislation before parliament to make the rules into law, but expects to do so before the 25 May deadline.

The government said in March that regulatory enforcement by UK privacy authority the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) would be delayed "in the short term". On Friday, DCMS gave more details of what it expects from businesses.

The government has set up a working party to examine how technology companies can build privacy settings into browsers, said the spokesman. A number of organisations — including Apple and Mozilla — are in the process of building 'do-not-track' options into their browsers. Cookie rules will not be enforced until that work is completed, said DCMS.

Regulation guidance

The ICO will issue guidance on cookies after the full regulations are published, said an ICO spokeswoman on Friday, who declined to give a timescale for the release of this guidance. A second working party has been established to "explore other options to complement the guidance", DCMS said.

The government consulted on changes to the EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, and published its opinion on Friday. "Our use of digital technologies, mobile and fixed line phone services, email and the internet continues unabated," said culture minister Ed Vaizey in a DCMS statement. "The changes to the EU Electronic Communications Framework bring our regulatory framework up to date."

Part of the directive deals with e-commerce sites, which will not be expected to seek user consent before using cookies. Users visiting e-commerce sites will be assumed to have given consent for cookies to be placed on their machines simply through the act of visiting those sites.

The government is also involved in talks over behavioural advertising, which uses technologies that track user behaviour to target advertising.

The UK Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and its European counterparts are exploring the use of adverts that have "an easily recognisable icon" so users can opt to refuse a cookie, or request more information about a product or service, DCMS said in its statement.

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