Soon websites in the European Union will need to get explicit permission from surfers before being allowed to track their online browsing habits. The new regulations come into force on 25 May as part of the European e-Privacy directive, which places tough new restrictions on the use of internet cookies.
These small files, which allow websites to identify unique users, have always been controversial. On one hand they underpin the way many online businesses operate by enabling them to track user behaviour to garner traffic data or for marketing purposes. But, with the onus currently on the individual to opt out, privacy advocates argue that they are inherently invasive.
The new measures are likely to be celebrated as a victory for anyone who doesn’t want records to be kept of every time they visit a site and of which pages they view. But such newfound freedom may prove to be short-lived if the inevitable increase in pop-up windows and the extra effort of having to click one more time to gain access to sites proves more irksome than liberating for the online community.
How all this will affect online businesses is not yet clear. With advertising now very much propping up the internet, if anything the trend has been for marketing firms to boost revenues by tailoring ads to individuals, and that means tracking them.