France’s data privacy watchdog beefs up consent rights of internet users on cookies

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France’s data privacy watchdog CNIL recommended on Thursday that websites operating in the country should keep a register of internet users’ refusal to accept online trackers known as cookies for at least six months.

In specifying a registration timeframe, the guideline goes beyond European Union-wide data privacy rules adopted two years ago, adding an extra hurdle that a data protection lawyer said would put some of the companies exploiting such tools to target advertising out of business.

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Under the CNIL guideline, which the watchdog said must be adopted by March, internet users have the right to withdraw their consent on cookies -- small pieces of data stored while navigating on the Web -- at any time and they can refuse trackers when they go on a website.

“The internet user’s silence actually implies a refusal (to accept cookies),” said Etienne Drouard of American-British law firm Hogan Lovells.

“But the CNIL imposes the collection of a refusal and (recommends) that this refusal lasts six months,” he said, predicting that stipulation would mark a “death sentence” for some publishers, media, video-on-demand platforms and advertisers.

The guidelines apply to all companies offering services in France or based in the country, said the CNIL, which has a reputation as a staunch defender of data privacy rights.

It also said internet users should be able to easily reconsider any initial agreement concerning cookies via a web link or an icon that should be visible on all the website pages.

The authority added that the users must be “clearly informed” of the end-use of the trackers before asking for consent. Websites must also tell internet users which entities would be collecting the data.

The legality of the use of so-called “cookie walls”, which prevent internet users from entering the website without agreeing on cookies first, has to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, the CNIL said.

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