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Friday, 27 May 2011

Cockspiracy? Ed Vaizey's advice on e-privacy directive on cookies goes AWOL

Cockspiracy: (n, pl -cies) when we're unable to distinguish between a cock-up or a conspiracy. Often used to describe government #fail.

On Tuesday Ed Vaizey released an open letter providing advice to companies on the UK's implementation of the EC e-privacy directive on cookies that came into force yesterday (26th May).

Today, as of 13:30 BST, the letter has gone AWOL.  Or rather, it's still there (pdf), but it's 81.8 kilobytes of blank PDF. UPDATE 13:45 it's back up.  Now for a game of spot-the-difference... 13.51: no difference. VERDICT: cock-up

Never mind, I've put a copy on my own website (pdf) , if you want to read it.

Essentially the government believes the issue can be solved by better browser controls making it far easier for users to block cookies and hence prevent having their browsing habits tracked across multiple websites by advertisers who are associated with a multitude of web publishers.

Because these browser controls aren't yet widely available as a standard option, the government has said in this open letter that enforcement action against UK websites under the cookie directive will be delayed until the controls are available (or for one year, at least).

Coincidentally, I agree with Ed and the DCMS on this issue, for reasons outlined here. The problem is web visitor tracking, not cookies.  Cookies are a useful tool for many things other than tracking, and the new law is like an attempt to regulate the sale of crowbars because they might be used to burgle houses.  Furthermore regional rules inside the EU will not apply to websites operating from outside the EU.

However, not all privacy advocates share my view.  Alexander Hanff of Privacy International sets out his position here.

You can have your own say on this issue via the @Open_Digital survey (5 days left).

For now we're left wondering whether the DCMS has removed the letter due to some as-yet unspecified problem with the text, a conspiracy, if you like; or a simple website cock-up.  Either way, it's a cockspiracy.


1 comment:

  1. Nice find. I'm not totally sure about a browser based solution because I worry that it will result in us losing analytics.

    Whilst no privacy advocate I do feel there is something unethical in behavioural advertising and commissions being paid to those who write "independent reviews" so I do support the intents behind the directive, if not the directive.


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