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Websites and third parties, such as advertisers, often like to record users’ online interaction in order to send personalized content, such as advertising banners and emails, based on that recorded information. Internet companies often pass on information stored in cookies to advertisers in order that they can send adverts based on users’ recent activity and apparent interests. Although this has been going on for years it is only recently that users’ rights and a standard system for user consent have been discussed.

Neelie Kroes, EU Commissioner responsible for the Digital Agenda, warned internet companies that she would “not hesitate to employ all available means to ensure every citizens’ right to privacy” if a standard system for indicating user consent to their online activity being tracked was not agreed by June 2012.

“Do-not-track today is still an aspiration rather than a reality,” Kroes said, according to the ZDNet report. “And that is why I have called for agreement on a do-not-track standard by June of this year. I am happy that work on this is proceeding in the World Wide Web Consortium. But we need to act fast to turn do-not-track into a reality for all web users”.

EU privacy rules from May 2011 state that the use of accessing and using information on users’ computers is only lawful “on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his or her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information … about the purposes of the processing”. Consent must be unambiguous and be explicitly given.

The Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK has issued guidance on what it considers acceptable methods for achieving consent. The UK Government has also said that it has been working with browser manufacturers to find a system for obtaining user consent to cookies.

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