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Draft EU data law could kill casual web browsing, digital SMEs warn

A group of Irish online publishers say draft European laws could force users to register just to see the homepage of a website.

Justin Cullen of Core Media, Sean Kelly MEP, Agata Nowacka of IAB Europe, Suzanne McElligott of IAB Ireland, Eamonn Fallon of Distilled Media and John Patten of Digitize.
Justin Cullen of Core Media, Sean Kelly MEP, Agata Nowacka of IAB Europe, Suzanne McElligott of IAB Ireland, Eamonn Fallon of Distilled Media and John Patten of Digitize.

WEB USERS could be forced to register with a website just to see its homepage, if the current draft of an EU regulation on online data is not changed before becoming law.

That’s according to a group of small and medium-sized Irish digital advertising firms, which says a new data protection regulation being put together in Brussels could make it virtually impossible to show content to casual users.

IAB Ireland, a trade association for the online advertisers, says the current draft of the laws would mean websites could only show content to users who explicitly approve the submission of some of their personal data.

It also extends the definition of ‘personal data’ to include non-personal details like an internet user’s IP address and the cookies stored by their browser.

IAB Ireland’s member firms say the rules could mean the end of an era where users can “serendipitously” discover new websites – as they would have to explicitly approve the submission of their personal data simply to see its homepage.

The group said it was important to realise that the laws would be coming in the form of a European regulation – meaning it would automatically become law in each EU member state, and was not subject to national amendment or discretion.

While this has advantages – making sure that online publishers only have to deal with one set of rules, instead of complying with dozens of separate legal systems – it also requires the unanimous approval of all EU member states, and the European Commission and Parliament, to be changed.

Once the laws were in, therefore, it was almost impossible for individual countries to engineer a change – meaning it was vital that the final regulation be workable and fully thought through.

‘Large parts of the web could disappear’

Eamonn Fallon, chief executive of Distilled Media Group, said large parts of the web could “disappear behind login walls” if the regulation was not amended before being brought into law.

He added that users would also have to explicitly agree to send their IP address to different sites, whose content might all appear on one page.

So, for example, a website featuring ads controlled by Google would be asked whether they wanted to give Google their IP address, simply in exchange for allowing the ads to appear on the page. Similarly, Facebook users could be asked to explicitly send their IP address to Facebook just so a ‘Like’ button could appear.

Fallon said that if information like a user’s IP address was considered ‘personal’, “the only way companies like ours can legally run web analytics and third party adservers would be to force all our users to login.”

Digitize director John Patten added it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible, to gather explicit consent on the websites on which ad networks, or site analytics companies, operate.”

This was because the companies delivering ads to users, or compiling readership figures on behalf of a web publisher, “do not have have a direct relationship with the users from whom they would need to obtain explicit consent.”

The group says the regulation’s whole purpose – to try and minimise the data that websites can collect about users – would be totally undermined if it forced websites to actively seek more information from users before allowing them to view content.

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly, who attended an IAB media event this morning, is the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the data protection updates. Kelly says he has tabled a number of amendments to the draft regulations, to try and address the concerns of the SMEs.

“We are working hard at an EU level to ensure that the Regulation balances strong protection for consumer rights with the opportunity to facilitate SMEs in Ireland and across Europe to prosper in the digital economy,” he said.

Journal Media Ltd has shareholders – Brian and Eamonn Fallon – in common with Distilled Media Group.

Read: EU to raise concerns about US data surveillance in Dublin summit

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