ePrivacy – open letter to the European Parliament from 30 rights organisations

3 min. read

We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, when it comes to the ePrivacy Regulation, on which work began in 2017. While we have been waiting for 4 years for the European Council’s position, the much-anticipated compromise has been reached in February and has given a green light to start trilogue negotiations between the European Council, the Parliament and the Commission.

However, the European Council has put the interests of online platforms and the advertising industry  above the interests of users. This is why a coalition of 30 rights organisation, led by Panoptykon, Civil Liberties Union for Europe and Open Rights Group, urge the Members of the European Parliament to maintain a strong position in negotiations due to begin in May and to protect users from the continued nuisance of deceptive consent banners.

The European Council supports stalker ads, not European Internet users

The new wave of “bannerism” is quite probable in the context of the Council’s position which puts the interests of online platforms and the advertising industry  before that of users.

The Council has weakened or entirely removed all guarantees that the European Parliament has included in its negotiating mandate on the ePrivacy Regulation. More specifically the Council has:

  • removed the provisions that allowed users to communicate their consent and other privacy preferences through browser settings or other software that they use, which defeats hopes for eventual disappearance of the maddening banners which extract consent from users,
  • weakened the ban on cookie walls — making access to the service dependable on consenting to tracking cookies,
  • a loophole that would allow considering tracking as necessary for providing the service.

This is why — together with Open Rights Group and Civil Liberties Union for Europe — we sent an open letter to over 100 Members of the European Parliament, in which we call on the MEPs to maintain its strong position in trialogue negotiations.

We want the Parliament to persuade the European Council and the European Commission that strong privacy protection not only guarantees the respect of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, but also creates incentives for the development of new alternatives to data brokers and big platforms, and thereby strengthens online media and European advertising technology providers.

A chance to get rid of cookie pop-ups?

ePrivacy is also a unique opportunity to solve the issue of consent fatigue resulting from cookie pop-ups attacking them ever since the GDPR has entered into effect.This issue can be solved technically: just like while loading the website the language or screen resolution settings are taken into account, the same rule could apply to tracking — online publishers and ad businesses should have to respect the browser or software settings which would answer consent requests in an automated way. With such settings, users could send companies a clear message: do not track me.

Even though all browsers already give users the possibility to select this option, the law does not impose an obligation on companies to respect this choice. And because at present tracking fuels the commercial Internet, most of the companies simply ignore this signal.

This demand is also important in the context of Google’s recently announced plans to phase out third-party cookies in Google Chrome — the advertising companies will no longer be able to use track users across different websites. In exchange the data would be collected and analysed by the browser itself.

In this case, the Do Not Track signal could not only provide protection against profiling within a single website — which would still be possible in Google’s proposal — but also could limit the American giant’s tracking capacity.

The open letter has been signed by 30 organisations which share our concerns and demands, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amnesty International, The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), Access Now, and others.

The full text of the letter

Karolina Iwańska

Related resources: Report To track or not to track? Towards privacy-friendly and sustainable online advertising

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