In a move that threatens affiliate marketing, bid management and web analytics, proposed amendments to the 2002 European Communities Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications would mean that in future, websites would only be able to place cookies on visitors' computers if they give their express consent.
"This is a proposal that would strike at the very heart of what the digital economy is all about. The ability to measure, track and improve the site experience for visitors is key to the success of e-commerce, and given the potentially damaging effect this could have on a multi-billion pound business channel, suggests legislators don't quite appreciate the havoc they could cause," said Andrew Girdwood, Head of Search at bigmouthmedia.
"This isn't really a privacy issue. More often than not, cookies only contain data to measure the success of keywords or affiliates. We support attempts to raise awareness of privacy issues and provide internet users with more control but believe these functions would be better provided by the browser than the website. This would give users even greater flexibility and more consistency."
Many areas of the digital marketing business could be seriously affected if the proposed legislative changes come into effect, with big names from Amazon to Google likely to be hit. Services dependent on using user data to track sales such as affiliate marketing would suffer significantly, while pay-per-click advertising services would be forced to ask permission to place a cookie every time a user attempted to follow a link.
If the amendments go through, commercial web sites may be forced to run multi million pound search campaigns without having a detailed understanding of how well the strategy is performing. Most modern forms of web analytics, meanwhile, would also be threatened by the European proposal.
The experience of visiting commercial websites could also be badly affected. Sites may be forced to display a pop-up message - commonly associated with invasive advertising - in order to seek the visitor's permission before any tracking could be used. Over all, the loss in transactions combined with the cost of implementation would stretch to many millions of Euros in lost revenue each month for online retailers, travel and finance sites.
Full details of the proposed legislative change and its possible ramifications are available through bigmouthmedia's digital news service.