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GUEST COMMENT EU Privacy and Communications Directive: What it means for users of call tracking solutions

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by Ross Fobian

Call tracking has become an important tool in web analytics and conversion rate optimisation and one that marketers increasingly rely on. Brands are recognising the importance of tracking customers who call them for further information, advice or to make a purchase. This is true for most industries, be it travel, retail, utilities – you name it, they all need to track those callers, which keywords they used, which ad they responded to and how they found the website.

The data is there and it helps digital marketers to shape campaigns by seeing at a glance which ads are working and which ones are not. Call tracking – like any other form of analytics – uses cookies to track users on websites. Therefore, unless checked it would fall foul of the EU privacy directive.

I believe that the real problem is that the regulation focuses a great deal on cookie technology, rather than the actual issues that exist concerning user privacy. A few months ago, the Information Commissioner issued a ‘half term report’ on how things are going on the privacy front. The verdict was ‘not a bad start but must try harder’. A report that listed the URLs of sites that were perfectly compliant from day one was always going to be a short one.

Econsultancy recently published three possible approaches to compliance. What they found was that a ‘one solution fits all’ approach does not exist at the moment and therein lies the problem. The EU privacy directive is attempting to regulate the technology (cookies) rather than the issue (privacy) at the heart of the problem. The directive should be focused on getting consent to store data that affects a user’s privacy; it should not be focused on regulating the use of cookies themselves which is a very wide net. Most web analytics solutions track a user by using an anonymous ID rather than anything personally identifiable, so these should arguably not need consent.

This entire situation was sparked by influential figures discovering that a website visitor could be tracked across different websites (albeit in most cases anonymously) using cookies. Again, the real problem is not cookie technology, it is the right to privacy.

We support Do Not Track technology. This enables users to opt out of tracking by websites they visit using their browser settings. By doing this, any web service that complies to the Do Not Track solution will not set cookies on the user’s machine, including analytics services, advertising networks and social platforms. Much like the popular Do Not Call registry, Do Not Track provides users with a single, simple, persistent choice to opt out of third-party web tracking. Do Not Track signals a user’s opt-out preference with an HTTP header – a simple technology that is completely compatible with the existing web protocol.

I agree that regulation is necessary to verify and enforce compliance with a user’s right to privacy, but what we really need to answer is whether this directive is tackling it the right way.

Ross Fobian is co-founder and CEO of AdInsight

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