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Everyone’s talking about… privacy

A new proposal for the often-nicknamed ’cookie law’ sent waves through Brussels (and beyond). Catherine Armitage comments on the latest developments.

Cookie banner on WFA’s own site
Cookie banner on WFA’s own site

Privacy has never been more top of mind for global marketers. A recent survey of WFA Digital Governance Exchange members places privacy first among their priorities this year. As the GDPR takes hold in Europe, other countries around the world have been following suit. According to The Economist, there are now privacy laws in more than 120 countries around the world from Japan to Kenya. In this context, it’s no surprise that WFA’s Global Privacy Map, which keeps track of privacy legislation around the world, was one of our most downloaded pieces of content last year.

One of the privacy laws that marketers – and WFA’s policy and advocacy team – have been keeping a close eye on is the revision of the EU’s ePrivacy Regulation, often nicknamed the ‘cookie law’.

This piece of legislation introduced cookie banners in Europe several years ago and its next iteration is likely to be no less disruptive.

Policymakers in Brussels have been having heated debates over the past three years about what exactly should be changed, and how far the new rules should go – and the debate is far from over.

A new proposal sent waves through Brussels (and beyond) as it opened a new chapter in negotiations. Despite calls from the European Parliament for stricter restrictions on cookies and trackers, the latest proposal from the EU Council (which is made up of representatives of national governments, who also have to approve the bill) could open the way for some types of data to be collected by trackers without the user’s consent.

This is a significant departure from discussions so far, which have often focused on the need for users to click ‘I agree’ before cookies can be placed.

Cookies, pixels and other types of tracker are a key way of collecting data used for targeted advertising. Marketers doing business in Europe are already feeling the impact of new privacy rules, which have been leading to falling opt-in rates and moves from major browsers (e.g. Google Chrome) to start phasing out cookie-based tracking.

But the revised ePrivacy Regulation has for a long time been seen by many as a further dark cloud around the corner, promising additional restrictions on the collection of data used to fuel online advertising.

The latest discussions in Brussels may offer a glimmer of hope to advertisers who have been fearing the worst – but this isn’t the end of the story. There are still many influential policymakers who are likely to oppose the new proposal, and there are still plenty of caveats that could prevent advertisers from getting the information they need to effectively measure and target ads.

As ePrivacy has been progressing through the EU legislative process, WFA has been busy meeting with policymakers and leading advocacy to bring the point of view of advertisers to the ePrivacy discussions, based on our position and amendments on the file.

We’ve also been sharing regular updates with the WFA Policy Action Group and working with the WFA ePrivacy task force to develop positions, amendments, outreach strategy and coordinate with the wider advertising industry. The next task force meeting is scheduled for March 10th. 

For an overview of WFA’s work on ePrivacy, check out our latest webinar.

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