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Government announces plan to stop annoying cookie pop-ups - but privacy group gives chilling warning

·2-min read

The Open Rights Group, an organisation that adovcates for privacy and free speech online, has said the government’s new data laws will “bonfire your rights”.

The government plans to move to an opt-out model for cookie banners, which allow websites to track users all over the internet. The banners were introduced as part of EU regulations, which were intended to give more transparency about what information is being collected, but have been criticised by some users for being annoying.

Currently, users must give consent for websites to track them, but the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has said this new proposal “would mean cookies could be set without seeking consent”, though “the website must give the web user clear information about how to opt out.”

Cookies can be used to reveal a huge amount of user data. As well as being useful for purposes such as remembering when a users is logged in, they can also be harnessed to track people around the web, watching their behaviour on other websites and reporting that back.

Apple and Mozilla blocked third party cookies on Safari and Firefox, respectively, and Google will update Chrome with the same measure by the end of next year.

“The Government are boldly taking the side of the abusers and the law-breakers: the UK Data Reform Bill will make it the default setting to spy on us, and your burden to opt-out of something you never wanted in the first place”, the group wrote in a blog post.

“The (welcomed) support for binding privacy signals that would allow Internet users to opt-out automatically via their browsers does not mitigate the fundamental erosion of individuals’ online privacy and right to choose, nor for the harms they would be exposed to because of the ‘do first-apologise later’ approach the UK Data Reform Bill would unleash”.

In public comments the UK’s Information Commissioner John Edwards, who heads the body that upholds information rights, has said it that “the proposed changes will ensure my office can continue to operate as a trusted, fair and impartial regulator, and enable us to be more flexible and target our action in response to the greatest harms.”

However, the Open Rights Group has levied criticism at such a claim. “ The Secretary of State is being given the power to arbitrarily amend the Commissioner’s salary, issue ‘a statement of priorities’ to their Office, and vetoing the adoption of statutory codes and guidance, thus exposing the ICO to political direction, corporate capture and corruption”, the group states.

As well as its cookie proposals, the bill also suggests that the potential fine for cold callers should be increased from £500,000 to £17.5 million.

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