Data Protection and Digital Information Bill

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Harding and the others in this group. She has comprehensively explained their importance; they may not be philosophical, as she says, but they have practical importance. One of the most compelling reasons for us to act is as she so precisely described: if we do not, we create a situation in the real world that the Bill seeks to address in the digital world.

Although this is about direct marketing, allied to it are pressures on advertising revenues and the greater control that is being taken by the larger platforms in this area all the time. The effect that has on revenues means that this is an important issue that deserves a proper response from the Government. I hope that my noble friend the Minister acts in the way that we want by, if not accepting one of these amendments, coming forward with something from the Government.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I can also be relatively brief. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for their amendments, to many of which I have added my name.

At the heart of this debate is what constitutes a disproportionate or impossibility exemption for providing data to individuals when the data is not collected directly from data subjects. Amendments 29 to 33 provide further clarity on how exemptions on the grounds of disproportionate effort should be interpreted —for example, by taking into account whether there would be a limited impact on individuals, whether they would be caused any distress, what the exemptions were in the first place and whether the information had been made publicly available by a public body. All these provide some helpful context, which I hope the Minister will take on board.

I have also added my name to Amendments 27 and 28 from the noble Baroness, Lady Harding. They address the particular concerns about those using the open electoral register for direct marketing purposes. As the noble Baroness explained, the need for this amendment arises from the legal ruling that companies using the OER must first notify individuals at their postal addresses whenever their data is being used. As has been said, given that individuals already have an opt-out when they register on the electoral roll, it would seem unnecessary and impractical for companies using the register to follow up with individuals each time they want to access their data. These amendments seek to close that loophole and return the arrangements back to the previous incarnation, which seemed to work well.

All the amendments provide useful forms of words but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, said, if the wording is not quite right, we hope that the Minister will help us to craft something that is right and that solves the problem. I hope that he agrees that there is a useful job of work to be done on this and that he provides some guidance on how to go about it.

Data Protection and Digital Information Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Data Protection and Digital Information Bill

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, I do not know how unusual this is, but we are on the same page across both sides of the Committee.

First, having signed the amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I express my support for the first batch, Amendments 199 to 201, which are strongly supported by the Advertising Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau for obvious reasons. The noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Bassam, and the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, have expressed why they are fundamental to advertising on the internet. Audience measurement is an important function, for media owners in particular, to determine the consumption of content and to price advertising space for advertisers.

I understand that the department, DSIT, has conceded that most of the use cases for audience measurement fit within the term “statistical purposes”. It is this area of performance that is so important. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, seemed to indicate, we may be within touching distance of agreement on that, but the Minister needs to be explicit about it so that the industry understands what the intent behind that clause really is. As a number of noble Lords have said, this is a specific and targeted exemption for audience measurement and performance cookies that limits the consent exemption for those purposes and, as such, should definitely be supported. I very much hope that, if the Minister cannot give the necessary assurance now, then, as a number of noble Lords have said, he will engage in further discussions.

Amendments 203, which I have signed, and 205 are extremely important too. Amendment 203, picked up clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is potentially important; it could save an awful lot of aggravation for users on the internet. It is potentially game-changing given that, when we approach the same site—even Google—we have to keep clicking the cookie. I very much hope the Minister will see the sense in that because, if we are changing the EC regulations, we need to do something sensible and useful like that. It might even give the Bill a good name.

As all noble Lords have rightly said, the Secretary of State needs to think about the implementation of the regulations and what they will affect. Amendment 202 is fundamental and badly needed. You need only look at the list of those who are absolutely concerned about the centralisation of cookies: the Internet Advertising Bureau, the Advertising Association, the Data & Marketing Association, the Market Research Society, the News Media Association, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the Association of Online Publishers and the Professional Publishers Association. I hope that the Government are in listening mode and will listen to their concerns.

As the PPA says, centralising cookie consent with browsers could cause consumers far more harm than good. The Secretary of State’s powers would override cookie consent relationships between individuals and specialist publishers, which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, talked about in particular. As the PPA says, in all likelihood a significant number of internet users would not consent to cookies from the browser but would consent to cookies on the websites of publishers that they know and trust. If the Secretary of State were to use this power to enforce cookie centralisation, many publishing businesses would be forced to present consumers with paywalls in order to be financially sustainable. As the PPA says, this would lead to consumers missing the opportunity to access high-quality publishing content without having to pay a fee.

The PPA has made an extremely good case. This would amplify existing barriers to competition in the digital market. There are provisions in the DMCC Bill that would give powers to the CMA to address any problems, such as enforced data sharing from platforms to publishers, but centralising cookie consent would completely undermine the objectives of that legislation. It is clear that this Bill should be amended to withdraw the provisions giving the Secretary of State the power to introduce these centralised cookie controls. I very much hope that the Minister will have second thoughts, given the weight of opinion and the impact that the Secretary of State’s powers would have.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, if the Committee will indulge me, I was a little late arriving for the introduction to this group of amendments by my noble friend Lord Lucas, but I heard most of what he said and I will speak briefly. I am quite sympathetic to the arguments about the exemption being too tightly drawn and the advantage that this is likely to give the likes of Google and Meta in the advertising ecology. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, a range of different trade bodies have raised concerns about this, certainly with me.

From my perspective, the other point of interest that I want to flag is that the Communications and Digital Committee is currently doing an inquiry into the future of news. As part of the evidence that we have taken in that inquiry, one of our witnesses from the news industry raised their concerns about a lack of joined-up thinking, as they described it, within government when it comes to various different bits of legislation in which there are measures that are inadvertently detrimental to the news or publishing industry because there has been no proper understanding or recognition of how the digital news environment is now so interconnected. Something like this, on cookies, could have quite a profound effect on the news and publishing industry, which we know is reliant on advertising and is increasingly feeling the pinch because the value that it gets from digital advertising is being squeezed all the time. I just wanted to reinforce the point, for the benefit of my noble friend the Minister, that concern about this is widespread and real.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to make my first foray at the Dispatch Box on this Bill in what has been an interesting Committee stage thus far. I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for tabling these amendments and other noble Lords who have signed and spoken to them in support.

Many people are irritated by repetitive pop-ups that appear on websites seeking consent for cookies and other similar technologies. The current cookie rules apply to all organisations placing cookies on a person’s device. Rather than engaging with these banners, people will select “accept all” so that they can access the webpage as quickly as possible. We want users to be able to make more meaningful choices over their privacy. One way in which web users may be able to reduce the number of consent pop-up banners that they see is by using automated consent management technology.

New Regulation 6B, which Amendment 202 seeks to remove, is important as it will allow the Secretary of State to require relevant technologies to meet certain standards or specifications, thereby ensuring that individuals using this technology have effective control over their privacy when they are online. Amendment 203 seeks to amend Regulation 6B by making it clear that consents given on individual websites should override any prior choices made using automated technology. However, this could pre-empt the outcome of consultation with relevant sectors, civil society and regulators on the design of any new regulations. I fear that this amendment could have the effect of encouraging the continued use of consent banners, may not reduce the overall number of pop-up banners and could increase the risk of influencing consumers to give up more personal data than they intended.

We feel that Amendments 204 and 205 are unnecessary and duplicate existing requirements and standard practice. There is already a requirement in new Regulation 6B to consult. We have engaged extensively with stakeholders on this Bill and will continue to do so in the context of using any of the new regulation-making powers linked to these clauses. Our engagement so far has highlighted the complexity of the ecosystem and the range of impacts on different interest groups. We will continue to consider these impacts carefully when considering whether to use the new regulation-making powers. Impact assessments are generally required for all interventions of a regulatory nature that affect the private sector, civil society organisations and public services.

The Government have taken powers in the Bill to remove consent requirements for other purposes if the evidence supports it while recognising that this is a complex and technical market. The Government will therefore continue to engage fully with all players before introducing any new exemptions or deciding to set standards for the market.

The new power in Regulation 6B recognises that there is a range of different stakeholder interests that would need to be considered before making regulations. The Secretary of State must consult the Information Commissioner, the Competition and Markets Authority and any other person the Secretary of State considers appropriate. While browser-based or centralised consent options have been discussed as a possible solution, nothing in the Bill mandates them. The regulation-making power, which follows the affirmative resolution procedure, would allow the Secretary of State to set standards of design that will be key to ensuring that the regulations can move with technology.

Amendments 199 and 200 would permit the storage of information or accessing information stored on a person’s connected device, including the internet of things, to enable the organisation to generate audience measurement information. This proposed new exemption does not explain what data would need to be gathered to meet the objective of the amendment and is potentially broad in its application. For example, if it permitted activities such as tracking and profiling, it may not be appropriate to permit it without the consent of web users.