Have You Forgotten About the ‘Cookie Law’?

You’ve all heard of the Cookie Law, right?

If the answer is no, and your business has a website that uses cookies (or other ‘online identifiers’), I would suggest you do a little homework. The upcoming EU ePrivacy Regulation not only expands significantly on that law (which is actually a Directive), it includes a fine structure on par with the GDPR.

The Cookie Law is actually the EU ePrivacy Directive  and was responsible for the incredibly irritating banners that pop-up on almost every website in the EU. About the only good news for some organisations is that the banners will likely go away under the new Regulation.

Even for those who are aware of the ePrivacy Regulation (perhaps have even read it), there is still a great deal of confusion. Not just related to the contents of it, but as to whether or not it’s even relevant with the GDPR already covering ‘privacy issues’.

Just 15 minutes of research reveals the following:

  1. The ePrivacy Regulation “particularises and complements” the GDPR – In other words, ePrivacy is an expansion on a single aspect of the GDPR. In this case ‘electronic communications’ (e.g. the ‘online identifiers’ referred to in Recital 30);
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  2. ePrivacy covers Article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (“the Charter”), the GDPR covers Article 8;
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  3. It’s not just about cookies, it covers EVERY aspect of electronic communication. Including; “…calls, internet access, instant messaging applications, e-mail, internet phone calls and personal messaging provided through social media.“, and all ‘metadata’ relevant to the communication channels themselves;
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  4. Unlike the GDPR, it does not just apply to ‘natural persons’, but to ‘legal persons’ as well. i.e. business-to-business; and
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  5. It has the most significant impacts in the area of marketing.

So, if your business has a website, performs marketing, or communicates with clients over ‘electronic channels’, you are in scope.

So why isn’t there anywhere near the kind of panic and hype over this Regulation as there is GDPR? If anything, I’d say this one has greater impact on most business, with a far greater degree of negative impact on how you are currently conducting your business. Just ask an online publisher what they think of it and brace yourself for the answer.

Imagine, for example, you provide online content free of charge. Your revenue is driven by online advertising which is in turn personalised to the viewer by cookies. Under ePrivacy you could no longer rely on pop-up banners to force acceptance of cookies, instead you have to rely on the viewer accepting cookies by default in THEIR web browser. Not only that, the Regulation is basically suggesting that all browsers should be ‘blocking all cookies by default’, then, in plain language, walk every citizen through changing the defaults to more ‘merchant-friendly’ settings.

However, here are a few bloody BRILLIANT outcomes:

  1. Unsolicited marketing phone calls should use a prefix on their numbers so you know what it is before answering! And no, they cannot get around this by blocking the caller ID;
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  2. Inclusion of your personal data in ‘publicly available directories‘ (a.k.a. marketing lists) must be done with consent; and
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  3. Any kind of “listening, tapping, storing, monitoring, scanning or other kinds of interception, surveillance or processing” of your personal data is strictly forbidden (the usual deprecations apply, e.g. ‘pubic interest’)

Not surprising that during the ‘Stakeholder Consultation’ conducted from 12 April to 5 July 2016 that 83.4% of citizens were for it, but 63.4% of businesses were against it. The lobbying that has taken place to soften the wording, while fruitless so far, has had the likely impact of delaying the enforcement of the regulation beyond the proposed data of 25 May, 2018 (yep, same date as GDPR, that’s how closely they are linked).

So I frankly have no idea why GDPR is such a big deal and ePrivacy is so obscure, but you just know it’s because only one of these is easily monetised by snake-oil merchants. GDPR attracted cybersecurity “professionals” because it’s about ‘data protection’, and lawyers because of the ‘lawful bases for processing’ and the requirement for DPO.

ePrivacy on the other hand provides no easy remedies, but you know they’re coming.

The bottom line here is that if you’re not familiar with it, get familiar, it WILL impact you. Once again, for those in the UK the ICO has lots of material on its website, but look for Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)¹ instead. Like how the DPA is the UK’s implementation of GDPR, PECR is ePrivacy.

Happy reading.

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¹ (Hopefully the acronym will be pronounced/known as the ‘Pecker Law’ which should give our American friends a good laugh).