Early last year we pointed out that implementing the proposed EU cookie law would profoundly affect European technology companies and anyone running a business online out of Europe. Let’s review why.
First of all, it could mean that a staggering 90% of a site’s visitors would run a mile rather than saying yes to accepting a simple Google Analytics cookie. This is what happened when the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) implemented the EU advise on their own web site (see above image).
Now, while that doesn’t mean you would lose the actual people. They may still be on your site. It’s just that you wouldn’t know, because – and it stands to reason – most ordinary people get scared off by the idea that they might be being “tracked” for advertising or analytics purposes even though that data is anonymous. Since cookies almost always refer to anonymised data, this is a long-held practise online and has helped online businesses to thrive.
Prior to the new EU cookie law, site owners just had to provide users with information about how the cookies were used and explain how to opt-out if they objected, usually in Terms and Conditions. Under the new rules, cookies can only be stored on devices where the user has given their consent.
Now, this is a big enough issue for large content publishers and technology companies. Imagine being a startup in Europe where you have to implement this law? Suddenly all those other startups, in other jurisdictions, like the US or China, are looking prety good, because when a user visits them they are not confronted by a huge “DO YOU WANT TO ACCEPT OUR COOKIES? PLEASE READ THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS” warning sign first. Personally if I was your average Joe and saw that I would just revert to the US competitor site. Simple.
This could have been so different. The EU Commission could have simply brought four people round a table and asked the main browser company owners (Google Chrome, Apple’s Safari, Microsoft Explorer and Mozilla Firefox) to implement a simple tick box in a browser distributed in the EU. Do it in a friendly way even: “We have detected you are in the EU – would you like to be served a more personalised browsing experience via anonymised cookies or not?”. Or similar. You get the drift.
We pointed out in March last year what a bad idea this would be for European technology companies. Entrepreneurs have held up their hands in protest at the idea.
Yes, there are privacy issues, we recognise that. But European companies are going out onto the field with their bats snapped and their legs broken.
The crazy thing is that consumers actually don’t mind being tracked anonymously if it improves their experience. One USA Today/Gallup poll showed that although 67% of consumers surveyed said that advertisers shouldn’t track them, that figure collapsed when 47% came back saying they would actually accept tracking as long as they could choose the advertisers.
In an era where economic growth in Europe has never been more crucial, do we really want to shackle our online businesses in this manner?
A few weeks ago I realised that Neelie Kroes, who is responsible at the European Commission for its Digital Agenda, was following me on Twitter.
I Direct Messaged her asking for an interview. She put me onto her press people. I contacted them. I’ve yet to hear a reply.
Perhaps its high time someone returned TechCrunch’s overtures, before there’s no European tech industry left to write about.