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EU Commissioner questions whether consumers prefer targeted ads

FEDMA EU Parl event Feb 2017.jpg

(Pictured from left to right: Head of the Dutch DMA, Diana Janssen, EPP MEP, Axel Voss and Deputy European Data Protection Supervisor, Wojciech Wiewiorowski)

On Wednesday 8  February FEDMA, the European association representing Europe’s various DMA’s, hosted an event at the European Parliament in Brussels to discuss the EU Commission’s proposal for an ePrivacy Regulation replacing the old Directive, which informs the UK’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations or PECR for short.

Claire Bury, deputy director general for DG Connect, presented first at the event. DG Connect is the Commission department responsible for the ePrivacy Regulation. Bury claimed that where the Commission could rely upon the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) they had, but the ePrivacy Regulation is necessary in certain areas. She also reminded delegates that unlike the GDPR the new ePrivacy rules are concerned with non-personal as well as personal data.

The ePrivacy Regulation seeks to do away with cookie consent popups on websites. These popups have been blamed for ruining the customer experience online. Marketers think they are clumsy, appearing on websites every time a consumer visits regardless of their preferences. The Regulation would say that consent can be given by choosing technical settings in their browser.

However, there will still be an incentive for businesses to have a cookie popup so they can demonstrate consent for their ad networks. It is unclear whether the Commission proposal is better than the status quo. From the Commission’s perspective this measure was about giving consumers control.

Later on, and rather worryingly for the industry, the Commissioner flagged research carried out by the Norwegian national data protection authority, which found that consumers prefer random versus targeted advertising when given the choice.

The Commissioner said the verdict was open, and while this was only one piece of research it was indicative of Commission thinking in this area. The key point for Bury was that consumers should be given marketing choices and organisations should be transparent with their customers.

Chairing the event EPP MEP Axel Voss said he felt that when legislators spoke about the digital economy, they do so only in terms of consumer rights. He felt this was extremely important but it was only one part of equation for legislators. They should also think about the possibilities for innovation and how knee jerk reactions run the risk of stifling creativity and economic development.

This must be kept in mind as the ePrivacy Regulation is debated by the EU’s Parliament and Council of Ministers.

Deutsche Post’s Harald Lemke echoed this view but said it was only with a holistic view that the EU Commission could create legislation that would actually drive economic growth in the digital economy.

This is only beginning of the legislative process for the ePrivacy Regulation, and so the privacy activists will be lobbying hard to secure victories. It’s therefore imperative that the DMA and FEDMA lobby to keep the right balance between the rights of consumers and the interests of businesses, who drive economic growth.

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