EU Rivals UK over Consent of Behavorial Marketing

Dennis Faas's picture

According to reports, the European Commission will soon begin an investigation into the British government's use of Internet surveillance. It could result in the government being forced to defend its policy on Internet privacy in front of European judges.

Ironically, the investigation isn't a result of U.K. data retention laws. The legal action resulted over Internet Service Providers (ISPs) using controversial behavorial advertising without consent from their customers.

EU Wants "Clear Consent" from Users

According to the report, the European Union (EU) wants "clear consent" from Internet users -- meaning they know and are okay with the fact that their private data is being used for gathering commercial information about their web shopping habits.

The UK-listed Phorm, Inc. developed technology allowing ISPs to track their users online and sell that information to media companies and advertisers who can use it to place more relevant advertisements on websites the user visits.

EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding called on the UK authorities to change their national laws and ensure that national authorities be duly empowered and have the proper sanctions at their disposal to enforce EU legislation. (Source:

BT Tracked its Customers

Last year, British Telecommunications (BT) was among the ISPs who tested Phorm's technology to track its customers' Internet searches without their knowledge. That resulted in complaints from UK members of the European Parliament and from users.

After users complained to the UK data protection authority and the police, the commission wrote to the UK authorities last July. The response received by the commission led to concerns over structural problems in how the UK implemented EU rules.

Problems in UK's Implementation of EU Rules

The Commission says EU countries need to ban the interception and surveillance of Internet users without their consent and ensure the confidentiality of their communications. After following the Phorm case for some time, the commission concluded that there are problems in the UK's implementation of EU rules on keeping communications confidential.

The Information Commissioner's Office passed Phorm technology as legal last year. The UK has two months to reply to the commission. If there is no satisfactory response from the UK, the commission could issue a reasoned opinion before the case is moved to the European Court of Justice.

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