John Barnes

Barnes says that in spite of the criticisms, 'AOP respects and recognises the law and is working with the ICO to support its members ongoing efforts to comply with the directive'

The Association of Online Publishers (AOP) has voiced concerns over EU legislation introduced into the UK last year governing the use of cookies, which it claims could put online publishers at a commercial disadvantage.

In May last year the new rules on cookies were brought into UK law, which meant websites would need to obtain consent from visitors in order to store and retrieve usage information from their computers such as cookies.

At the time, communications minister Ed Vaizey said website operators would have a year to "get their house in order" before enforcement of the law began, which ends this week.

In an interview with AOP chairman John Barnes said the body's official point of view was that it had concerns about the directive which could "compromise English language sites that compete with digital businesses based outside the Eurozone", as the legislation only applies to EU organisations.

"What the directive is trying to address is it's trying to make sure that publishers are giving informed consent to tracking and it's not about opting in or opting out, and also it's important to think it's not just about cookies, it's about tracking technology generally, although cookies are the primary way most people will do that," he added.

"It's a difficult thing to flag up without going into a lot of explanation, obviously a user arriving on a site doesn't necessarily want to spend a lot of time reading a lot of explanation so that's a difficult balance to get right.

"But our major concern is if you're a big English-language business based outside the Eurozone, you don't necessarily have to comply.

"The commercial worry the AOP is highlighting is that is that this is going to put UK publishers at a disadvantage because they won't be able to offer behavioural advertising in the same way, because they have to highlight this legislation which US based sites, US publishers, maybe don't have to highlight in the same way."

He added: "However AOP respects and recognises the law and is working with the ICO to support its members ongoing efforts to comply with the directive."

Barnes said that while the US operates "a similar kind of approach to privacy ... it's different and potentially a bit looser".

Organisations outside of the EU who have websites aimed at the European market will still be expected to consider the expectations of users in Europe when it comes to information and consent on cookies.

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