European Commission (EC) vice president Neelie Kroes has castigated the IT industry for its lethargic response to online privacy concerns, calling for a renewed impetus to develop 'do not track' (DNT) standards.
Kroes told a meeting at The Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels that DNT standards were urgently needed to safeguard users' interests and the future growth of the online economy.
The Worldwide Web Consortium is currently drawing up a global DNT standard, but Kroes warned that its standard was taking too long and risked being watered down.
“I am worried about the soundness of what we are getting – and about the slow speed,” she said.
“Failing to deliver would mean everyone loses. Users miss out on an easy way to protect their privacy, websites miss out on a simple and user-friendly way to comply with consent requirements. And, ultimately, advertisers lose out, too.”
Many browsers, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox already include DNT features, enabling users to opt out of receiving cookies.
But the current system only works if websites also implement the standard, potentially meaning websites could install cookies against the users' wishes.
Kroes warned businesses that it was in their interests to ensure the DNT standard was effective, as European laws demanded websites seek consent before installing cookies.
“The cookie consent rules will be enforced and providers will have to comply. Nobody wants users who can't trust the web,” she said.
A workable DNT standard is urgently needed, said Jim Killock, a director of the Open Rights Group. He accused the advertising industry of wrong-headedly trying to hamstring DNT.
"Do Not Track is a great idea, but could easily be meaningless,” he said.
“If it fails to protect our privacy, then advertising profiling companies are likely to come under renewed attack from legislators. The ad groups who are pushing to make DNT full of holes should realise they are damaging their own industry in the long run."
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