by Christopher Williams
April 15, 2011
The EU regulations require users to give permission for websites to install "cookies" in their browser.
These small text files are frequently needed for basic functions online such as storing usernames and passwords. They are also put to more controversial uses however, including by advertising firms like Google who track users' behaviour and interests as they surf the web.
The communications minister Ed Vaizey said the UK will adopt a two-tier approach to implementing the regulations.
Firstly, officials are working with the major web browser makers to develop a way for users to give their permission on an ongoing basis. The result will probably be a button in the browser window that users will need to click just once, a DCMS spokesman said.
Web firms had feared the European regulations would mean they would be responsible for getting user permission every time the wanted to install a cookie. They successfully lobbied for a system that would not mean web surfing was constantly interrupted
Secondly, the government is supporting an industry initiative that will mean websites that use tracking cookies - also known as behavioural advertising cookies - will notify users via an icon in the corner of web advertisements. Those who do not want to be tracked will have to click on the icon to opt out.
"However, a one size fits all solution is not appropriate to the UK," a DCMS statement said.
"Flexibility is essential for innovation and new business models."
Regulation of tracking cookies in Britain is likely to be weaker than in the US, where the "Do Not Track" Bill, currently before Congress, would allow users to opt out of all behavioural tracking at once, in advance.
The European regulations are supposed to be in force by 25 May, but Mr Vaizey admitted Britain will not meet the deadline.
"We recognise that work on the technical solutions for cookie use will not be complete by the implementation deadline. It will take time for meaningful solutions to be developed, evaluated and rolled out," he said.
Mr Vaizey added that the Information Commissioner's Office will not take enforcement action while the new systems are developed and implemented, but did not say how long the process would take.
James Mullock, a data protection lawyer at Osborne Clarke, said: "The government is basically buying time, they are desperate to avoid too harsh an implementation of the directive."
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