Neelie Kroes_Online privacy and online business: An update on Do Not Track

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Thank you for inviting me today.

Online privacy and online business need to go hand in hand. Privacy is a fundamental right; if your idea doesn’t work with that, it won’t work at all. Because people won’t use what they don’t trust. And they will stop using what they learn to distrust. If that happens, online businesses miss out on a huge opportunity of new and bigger markets.

We need a corporate culture that respects its customers and their privacy. Being transparent: making all citizens aware what’s at stake, and which tools they can use. So today I want to say to those involved in Online Behavioural Advertising self-regulation here in Europe: well done for reaching another milestone and launching the legal entity governing your programme this week. The signatories deserve praise and encouragement for going in the right direction. You have worked hard, and have done well.

Of course, we also need a corporate culture that respects our legal privacy rules which go beyond transparency. The new provisions in the ePrivacy directive, the so-called “cookie rules”, require informed consent before information is stored or accessed on a user’s device, their computer or smartphone. Including when somebody wants to store or access cookies for advertising or other tracking purposes. All providers need to respect and implement these rules.

Over a year ago I set out how industry should deal with them. At the time stakeholders were just waking up to the issue; by now, those rules are in force in almost all Member States.

The Digital Agenda is about helping online business to grow. And it’s about an open Internet where innovation can continue to change our world. So we are not agnostic as to how industry implements the cookie rules: this is important to our goals. And that’s why, in June last year, I urged all interested parties to come to the standardisation table, and agree a Do Not Track standard, or “DNT”. A standard making it simple for Internet users to say “don’t track me”; and describing how websites should respect this choice.

It’s not hard to see how DNT can help with cookie consent – and help the Digital Agenda. Put simply, DNT can be a universal mechanism to communicate relevant consent – or lack of consent. It should apply to tracking via cookies, and also by other means. It should apply to all network devices and applications, independently of the purpose of tracking. It should “work on the web”, be scalable globally, and in keeping with the end-to-end principle.

That was my challenge to industry. Just over a year later, it’s time to assess progress.

Several browser manufacturers have quickly incorporated the emerging DNT: and that’s positive. Here to read more.

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