New EU cookie laws - carrying more than calories

New EU cookie laws - carrying more than calories

New EU cookie laws - carrying more than calories

9 June 2011

Australian website owners could find the use of cookies more hazardous than their calorie-laden counterparts if Australian law follows a recent example set by the EU.

Privacy lawyer, Emma Weedon, from McCullough Robertson, said new laws introduced in the European Union will prohibit the use of cookies without the 'explicit consent' of users, from 26 May, 2011.

'Cookies are very widely used, and their use as a marketing tool is increasing,' Ms Weedon said.

'Cookies are small files that are used by websites to retain information, about things such as a user’s preferences.'

'They are saved on the user’s computer, and are often used to remember things like the contents of a shopping basket.'

'With increasing concerns around privacy and personal information on the net, Australian Governments may consider following in the footsteps of the EU and introduce similar laws.'

Ms Weedon said that currently, Australia doesn’t have laws that require explicit consent prior to deploying cookies, and the use of cookies is largely governed by the requirements of the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988.

She said the new laws have been introduced to meet European Union requirements and clarify the fact that businesses and organisations running websites are required to get consent from site visitors before storing cookies on their computers.

'These laws have been introduced in an effort to address privacy concerns and increase user choice,' Ms Weedon said.

'Under the previous system, and indeed the current situation in Australia, website operators were required to give information about cookies that were to be stored, but not required to gather explicit permission.  The only exception to the new laws occurs in instances where the cookie is deemed necessary for the completion of a task that the user has expressly requested.'

Businesses in various parts of the EU have 12 months to comply with the new laws.  If a business operates a website that is hosted outside the EU, such as in Australia it will need to be mindful of the new laws.  It is not clear whether offshore website owners will be required to comply, but it is open to regulators in each EU country to require all websites (regardless of the hosting jurisdiction) to comply with the new rules. 

'Further, if matching Australian law follows, local website owners and businesses will need to change the way they interact with internet users if they intend to continue to use cookies, for example, through obtaining express acceptance of website terms and conditions' Ms Weedon said.

Further information

For more information contact: Kristie Fankhauser on +61 7 3233 8876.

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