The European Union Versus Marketers

EU e-Privacy Initiative attacks ad tracking via cookiesI wonder how many marketers are focused on what’s happening in Europe on the digital marketing front? While companies here are busily engaged in making sure ad tracking is being done to the nth degree, in the UK and Continental Europe, new legal restrictions on advertising tracking threaten to upend a lot of these efforts, particularly for multinational brands.

In short, the EU’s e-Privacy Directive restricts the use of “cookies” and virtually all other digital ad tracking methods. And the legal frameworks set up around this directive would require any marketer with users in any EU country to be subject to EU-wide and country-specific privacy legislation.

The new privacy initiatives are far more restrictive than the present US-EU “safe harbor” agreement, which merely requires American companies to notify users when cookies are used on a website. The new regs covering web pages, web apps and mobile apps would require giving notice each time a cookie is used, thereby setting up a flurry of endless notifications that promises to seriously degrade the online browsing experience.

The seemingly reasonable compromise of adding information to a “terms of use” agreement isn’t acceptable to the EU either, unless all users are issued the new agreement and they certify their acceptance.

And just to make sure everyone knows how serious all of this is, the new regs call for the imposition of financial and/or criminal penalties for the non-compliant use of cookies. But for the moment at least, only two relatively small countries besides the UK – Estonia and Denmark – have implemented controls to enforce the EU directives.

Here in the United States, privacy legislation slowly wends its way around Congress, with many legislators understanding that the key to successful commerce online is the ability for marketers to match marketing messages to interested consumers. It’s in Europe where governments appear more than willing to cripple the ability of marketers to do the job they’ve sought to do for decades: Target their audiences with as much precision as possible.

As a result, some European businesses are making noises about abandoning Europe for the United States. The problem is, in the digital age with so much of the branding and commerce blurred between countries, it’s impossible for restrictive moves in one region not to cause negative repercussions somewhere else.

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