The Belgian Data Protection Authority – previously known as the Privacy Commission – has fined a company for what appears to be a blatant disregard for the wishes of internet users.
We’ve all seen them: the minute you arrive on a new website you haven’t visited before, a text box pops up to ask whether you want to accept no cookies, all cookies or, in some cases, a selection.
Cookies are of course a small packet of information which is downloaded into your computer if you agree, which can then and later communicate with the host computer to communicate data, and prevent you from buying a book or CD you already have.
However, the DPA has found that some websites give you a cookie on the sly, even if you made it clear you don’t want any.
Most people, it’s probably safe to say, probably just click to get rid of the on-screen dialogue box. But whether they do that or not, business continues behind the screen, and you have no idea it’s going on. Those activities include gathering your surfing and purchasing details, and constructing for you a detailed profile that can be used by advertisers and others (like political and pressure groups) to find ‘customers’ for whatever they happen to be selling.
Some visitors to the website were put out by this approach, and complained to the DPA, which found out that the companies had secretly installed a cookie all the same, contrary to the customer’s wishes.
The company argued that it had no control over how the cookie was used, which was entirely up to the user. But the DPA refused to accept that reasoning.
That is of course strictly illegal, and now AIB Europe, the interactive advertising company that operates the system, has been found to have broken the law and must pay a fine of €250,000 and put an end to its clandestine cookie system. The company has two months to put its system in order.
“This is an incredibly complex file that we had to investigate both technically and legally and we've received various analyses from different experts," Hielke Hijmans, chair of the DPA Disputes Committee told Data News.