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Proposed EU law could kill cookie banners that no one reads

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But the changes may affect ad-funded companies’ bottom line

safari cookie stock 1020

The European Commission has proposed new regulations that would curb the way companies track users on the internet. Part of that plan would be to remove website banners that provide disclaimers on cookie policies and have the user’s browser preferences automatically apply to each site they visit.

Cookies are small data files that a website saves to “remember” you. They can be used to preload websites for faster browsing, or save your sign-in information for services that require personal accounts. Companies also use cookies to track a user’s web browsing pattern to serve targeted ads.

An example of a cookie banner on The Telegraph

The new proposal, announced on Tuesday, would require companies to get explicit consent from a user before being allowed to track their online activities. For example, upon installation of a new web browser, users can state whether they consent to having websites place cookies on their browsers. This preference then applies to every website the user visits rather than forcing them to individually accept the policy for each service they use.

The benefits from the consumer end are obvious: more control over how their online consumption are being tracked and fewer annoying banners that push content down the webpage. For ad-funded companies, however, the laws would heavily change the way they operate. Free services like Facebook and Google could see their bottom line affected by the shift, as targeted ads are a significant portion of their web revenue. The law would also apply to messaging services like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, iMessage, and Gmail.

Experts also warned that the change may potentially make it more annoying for consumers as well. The proposal clarifies that no consent will be required for “non-privacy intrusive” cookies used to improve the internet experience, such as remembering items in your shopping cart. But for those who want cookies impermanently placed (say, signed-in accounts on a temporary device) they may have to manually change preference settings for each time they visit a new webpage.

If passed, the EU plans to put these new rules into effect by May 2018. Companies that do not comply may face fines of up to 4 percent of their global annual sales.