Vice-president of the European Commission Neelie Kroes has urged European Union members to agree online privacy standards by June 2012.
In a speech given to the 'Online Tracking Protection & Browsers Workshop' in Brussels this week, she argued for the creation of a tracking standard to uphold privacy on the web.
"The internet is a global achievement and privacy is a global concern. And I challenge [all interested parties] to agree a Do Not Track [DNT] standard by June 2012," she said.
Kroes also identified cookies as an area for concern. "Cookies allow many useful things; for example, personalisation of websites. But they can also be used to track users across different websites." The resulting information can be used to build user profiles which are valuable, for example, for targeting ads.
She added that a user's browsing habits could also be tracked through browser add-ons or browser fingerprinting (where the browser's combination of plug-ins, add-ons and installed fonts is used to identify a user).
This tracking can then occur without the user's knowledge or consent, thus contituting an invasion of privacy.
She praised a solution found by two advertising bodies, the EASA and IAB Europe. "Their approach consists of an icon on each targeted ad, coupled with an information website that allows the user to switch off behaviourally targeted display ads [disabling cookies] from any participating company," she said.
But she also stated that this was not enough, and that a recognised standard was needed to protect consumers.
"We need to standardise the DNT signal. The standard must be rich enough for users to know exactly what compliant companies do with their information and for me to be able to say to the industry: 'if you implement this, then I can assume you comply with your legal obligations under the ePrivacy Directive'."