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    New York Times: Setting Boundaries for Internet Privacy

    The New York Times reports on the difficulties that Europeans are having with Internet privacy rules:

    But there is one area where even European regulators appear stymied — the tracking of consumer Internet surfing habits by technology companies, advertisers, Internet service providers and Web businesses that focus on consumers on the basis of online behavior.

    For 18 months, the European Commission has been considering how to put into practice a 2009 law that regulates software cookies, the unique digital markers that Web sites place on visiting computers to identify consumers and deliver ads tailored to individual interests.

    This year, a consensus appeared to be building in Brussels for letting the online advertising industry regulate its use of cookies. The main industry group, the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe, set up a Web site this summer to let consumers choose not to receive — “opt out” of — receiving advertisements directed as a result of profiling. […]

    But regulators representing E.U. member states, backed by consumers’ rights groups, are balking at the voluntary arrangement, which they argue does not adequately protect individuals from unwittingly permitting marketers to collect personal data. Last week, they began a drive to require E.U. consumers to “opt in” to profiling by clicking on Web icons within ads.

    Consumer advocates hope to insert an opt-in mandate in the revision of the European Union’s Data Protection Directive, the main body of privacy law, which will be considered next year. […]

    On Wednesday, the privacy advisers to the commission, a panel of national regulators called the Article 29 Working Party, held a closed-door meeting with members of Interactive Advertising and other industry groups to discuss concerns about industry self-regulation. After the meeting, the panel reiterated its belief that the opt-out approach violated European privacy law, which requires consent before personal data can be used. […]

    The European debate has the potential to influence a parallel discussion on behavioral advertising under way in the United States, where the Federal Trade Commission has also expressed concern about the sufficiency of the opt-out approach.

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