Katherine Levy: We should be wary that consumers are still wary of cookies
A view from Katherine Levy

Katherine Levy: We should be wary that consumers are still wary of cookies

The contentious European Union cookie law comes into full effect in nine days' time.

Webmasters could be penalised if they do not comply with legislation that requires users' consent before dropping cookies. While EU officials pat themselves on the back for enforcing a law that supposedly protects consumers' online privacy to a greater degree than before, businesses and advertisers are still reeling at the ill-conceived "opt-in" strategy that threatens the uninterrupted online experience we have hitherto taken for granted.

Ahead of D-Day, a report published by the Internet Advertising Bureau and ValueClick reveals some concerning statistics about consumer understanding of cookies and online privacy. The survey shows that two-thirds of people polled believe they know how to "protect" their privacy online. Half said they had deleted cookies from their computers in the past six months, while one in five deletes cookies every week. Worryingly, 81 per cent of cookie deleters do not distinguish between first- and third-party cookies, revealing a real lack of understanding about how helpful cookies are for even the most basic web experience.

Furthermore, 14 per cent of the 2,000 people surveyed said they thought the data used to show them relevant ads included information that could identify them personally, while 43 per cent were not sure if this meant their identity was known. Put that side by side with the statistic that 62 per cent of people are concerned about online privacy and you can see how dangerous this uncertainty is.

Nevertheless, more than half of those surveyed are in favour of personalised advertising online. But this means some of those who are deleting their cookies also want to see addressable ads on the web - more proof that many don't really understand cookies. It is this misunderstanding and fear of being "watched" that threaten the development of interest-specific ads that so many web users actually desire.

More needs to be done in terms of educating consumers about cookies. This is vital when it comes to mobile, which will suffer the most when complying to e-privacy guidelines. On the small, personal screen, any disruptive "opt-in" pop-ups are likely to trigger a far more negative response than they would on the large screen of a desktop. And invasive consent mechanisms are likely to reinforce any misunderstanding about e-privacy that still reigns among consumers - ie. that being tracked is something to be alarmed about.

The race is on for brands to come up with clever, creative ways of executing consent mechanisms on the web and on mobile. In the year of mobile, this directive could be very bad news indeed. At worse, it risks killing off m-commerce before it has had a chance to really take off.