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19th Jan 2020

EU Parliament 'cookie' restrictions worry online media

  • Albrecht (r) says online media cannot expect regulators to ignore fundamental rights on privacy (Photo: Jan Albrecht)

A top MEP working on data protection says upcoming privacy rules will trigger new business models for the ailing online media.

German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht told reporters last week that current media reliance on clicks and adverts to generate revenue has no future.

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"I think you can earn better money for quality products with real money," he said on Friday (10 November).

The comments follow a widening debate surrounding e-privacy reforms, which aims to enforce and secure the confidentiality of online communications.

Some of those reforms may end up restricting online ads, with rules that seek to give people more say over how their information is being commercially exploited.

The reforms endorsed by the European Parliament prevent, among other things, the use of cookies on websites at the browser's installation. Those same cookies are a key component for advertising revenues and may allow users to be tracked online across platforms.

Albrecht maintains people are willing to pay for quality content they want, similar to the growing online music market, and that consumer rights must be protected.

"Maybe they think some of the content has been devalued because it hasn't cost anything and was only made to get clicks and therefore only targeted advertising," he said.

The question is how to create a business model to get people to spend money rather than relying on advert snooping, he says, noting context-based advertising as an alternative.

"I think the e-privacy regulation will maybe support the media industry in getting there," said Albrecht, who steered the EU's general data protection regulation through the EU parliament.

But critics like the European Newspaper Publishers Association (ENPA), a Brussels-based umbrella group, dispute Albrecht's argument.

They say the reforms would spell the end of free online journalism and consolidate the dominance of the few.

"The regulation will impact directly at the heart of press revenues in the digital environment," said ENPA President Carlo Perrone, last month in a statement.

Similar comments were made by the Brussels-based European Magazine Media Association.

Its president Xavier Bouckaert, in a statement last month, said the proposed default privacy settings would "prevent them from accessing freely to journalistic content".

The European Parliament as a whole endorsed the reforms in late October, meaning that they are now ready to enter talks with the Council, representing member states.

The Parliament position includes a ban on 'cookie walls', on snooping on personal devices via cookies or software updates, or tracking people without their consent. It also restricts third party access to meta-data.

Member states have yet to formulate their negotiating position.

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