WFA responds to opinion on online behavioural advertising


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WFA has in collaboration with its industry partners coordinated a common response to the Opinion of the Article 29 Working Party on Online Behavioural Advertising - the European Commission's expert group on data protection consisting of the 27 national data protection authorities - released on 24 June 2010, calling for prior opt-in consent to behavioural advertising. Read the press release in full below...

The Article 29 Working Party "Opinion 2/2010 on online behavioural advertising" adopted today, calls for an opt-in by users for placing cookies on their PCs. In a strong rebuttal, Europe's media and advertising industry united to reject the Opinion, which is out of step with the relationships that businesses and consumers are building online and flies in the face of the reality of the Internet.

Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director of the European Publishers Council said: "This is an overly strict interpretation of the ePrivacy directive. If followed by Member States, it would kill any chance of the media building viable advertising revenues online and our serious efforts to give consumers effective control over the use of cookies. Only this week, speaking before the AMCHAM, Commissioner Reding said: "This sector needs clarity not red tape (...). This is why self-regulation could work well in this area to complete the existing rules. I am considering this approach as a way to have codes of conduct (...)". Angela Mills Wade added that "we welcome this more nuanced approach by the Commission, their confidence in self-regulation and a balance between regulation and business interests."

The Article 29 group is suggesting that whatever "information" is stored in cookies, it must be treated as if it were "personal" data and as such should be subject to explicit, prior consent. The Directive currently does not require an opt-in for cookies. In practice such a requirement would mean that users would have to confirm every single cookie placed on their PCs, leading to a permanent disruption of their Internet experience. The industry believes this is a gross misinterpretation of the intention of the Directive and a misrepresentation of the type of data typically collected and processed for the purposes of serving interest-based advertising to consumers on our websites. The ePrivacy Directive acknowledged that the controls in modern web browsers give users full and granular control over cookies.

"This opinion takes no account of the support we get from our consumers for interest-based advertising nor of the exchange in value they receive between effective advertising and access to high quality media content for free." said Stephan Loerke, Managing Director, World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

"Obviously, the Internet in Europe would become less attractive to users and would significantly undermine the growth potential of the digital economy. Such strict privacy regulations would not only jeopardise the existence of European online companies but would call into question the EU's ambitious Digital Agenda, intended to increase Europeans' access to ultra fast Internet and fostering the e-commerce sector." said Stephan Noller, CEO of and IAB Europe Chair of the Policy Committee.

As media and advertisers develop new ways of reaching consumers through tailored, interest-based content and new opportunities in matching advertising based on users' potential interests, cookies are essential to the smooth functionality underlying these new business models.

Angela Mills Wade said "these 'data' are not personally identifiable or sensitive, and do not harm consumers' privacy. That is why at present the regulatory regime across Europe allows for consumer to control of the use of cookies themselves through their browser settings and options to opt-out of receiving cookies".

"We are looking forward to a dialogue with the Article 29 Working Party to discuss the proposed concepts, their feasibility and practicability and provide our ideas how transparency and choice for users can be increased with more proportionate measures than an opt-in. Self-regulation could be the solution that contributes to increased transparency in a meaningful way that regulation could hardly achieve." said IAB Europe Vice President Kimon Zorbas.

The Article 29 Working Party consists of the "Privacy Authorities" of the 27 EU Member States. It regularly issues legally non-binding opinions and resolutions on several issues relating to privacy and personal data protection.

Cookies are small pieces of text, stored on a user's computer by a web browser. They are used by almost every website and are the backbone of the modern internet as websites use a lot of embedded content and services such as widgets from third party providers. Major browsers and similar applications allow users to control cookies by specifying when and which cookies to accept and to delete. The revised ePrivacy Directive requires users' consent for placing cookies, which can be expressed implicitly. In point 66 of the new preamble in the ePrivacy Directive, the legislator recognised that special rules for cookies were warranted to avoid significant disruptions of the user's experience.

The Article 29 Working Party Opinion 2/2010 on online behavioural advertising is available on:

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