March 14, 2012, 11:25 AM

Online marketers really dislike Europe’s new digital privacy law

Most online shoppers would have to give permission to install cookies.

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A law that will force e-retailers in Europe to ask consumers’ permission before installing digital tracking codes on their computers isn’t winning many points with online marketers. 82% of them think the European Union’s new cookie law is bad for the web, according to survey results released today by Econsultancy, a market research firm with offices in New York and London.

Econsultancy surveyed 739 marking professionals earlier this month via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter to learn their thoughts about the online privacy law, which takes effect this spring and generally requires web sites to ask for permission before placing a cookie on a consumer’s browser to track her behavior. Those cookies can tell marketers where that consumer has come from and what she’s viewed and searched for—which in turn enables marketers to target web ads based on those behaviors, or tweak discount and merchandising tactics. The law doesn’t require permission for cookies that track items put into shopping carts or which remember a consumer’s shipping address.

Only 18% of survey respondents say the law will prove positive for the web, Econsultancy says. Comments from survey respondents point to lingering confusion about the law and skepticism that it will do good. “There's total confusion on how to apply it and what it should be applied,” reads one such comment from a survey participant. “There are a few nice implementations [but] nothing which everyone agrees on, which means a disjointed user experience from site to site.”

Critics of the EU directive had said it will make e-commerce more confusing because a retailer will have to be aware of and abide by each European country’s interpretation of the directive . Such concerns are reflected in the frustrations voice by survey respondents. “There are still a number of grey areas and the legislation has obviously been put together by people that do not understand the workings of online marketing,” reads another comment. “However, it is here to stay and real concern behind its birth is a legitimate one. We just need to be sensible about how we interpret it and ensure that we turn this into positive legislation for the online industry.”

Just more than half, or 57% of respondents, said they had read the EU privacy directive that requires consumers to opt in for most web tracking by retailers and marketers, and 54% report their employers have carried out a cookie audit in advance of the law’s May 26 deadline for compliance. Only 7% of respondents say they think that online consumers understand how cookies work.

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