Cookies Privacy and the UK Information Commissioner

"Cookies are not themselves important. It's what you do with them that is."

This was the key message that came out of E RADAR's meeting this week with the UK's Information Commissioner who is responsible for enforcing the new e-privacy regulations. Together with Joint Masters students from the University of Manchester's School of Computer Science and Manchester Business School we were presenting our latest research into how cookies are being deployed technically on corporate websites and how to resolve some of the privacy compliance challenges.

It comes as no surprise to most people applying public policy to the commercial world that those drafting legislation often have no experience of how technology works. The result is that regulators are then often put in the position of having to apply the law when it conflicts with technology, thus making how we do business electronically more uncertain. Although the 'gold standard' is to ensure laws and regulations are technology neutral, this is not always the case. Many politicians 'in the know', including the Rt Hon Alun Michael MP have long argued that we need better ways of law-making for the Internet Age, including self regulation. This has to be the way forward, but some objectivity in industry setting down its own self-regulatory rules must apply. The role of official regulators is therefore still very important so long as they each take a risk-based approach to enforcement.

In this respect, the Information Commissioner's Office has always got it right. And if the UK's online economy stands any chance of remaining competitive in the global market place, government, regulators, businesses, agencies and other users need to work together rather than in separate silos - which is what has happened in the past and continues to do so in some quarters (although this is now changing with economic pressures).

Back to privacy and cookies I was impressed by how the MSc students have applied logic to a complicated compliance problem. We don't yet have all the answers (there are some real technology-based issues that challenge many of the current 'solutions' available) but we are certainly giving it a good shot and hope to report again soon.

And if there are any companies out there that are interested in sponsoring further research we'd be very happy to hear from you!

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