The mythical beast known as the cookie law fine emerges

2014 is only three months old but already it has been a year of extraordinary happenings. We had two consecutive days of sunshine in Glasgow. My accounting software showed no overdue client invoices. My local Tesco started carrying Sriracha Rooster Sauce. And somebody got a cookie law fine.

From where did this mythical beast emerge? (The cookie law fine, not The Velvet Rooster of Double Happiness.)

It happened in Spain, a country which, like Germany, has very strict personal data protection laws in place as atonement for the sins of its past.

I know y’all are tl:dr these days, so here’s what you need to know:

  1. The fine was €3,500 (£2,925 GBP). That’s relevant because…
  2. The fine was issued to a family of jewellery shops. They sell engagement rings that cost more than that fine.
  3. What sort of man buys an engagement ring online? Seriously?
  4. After the complaint about the site was made to the Spanish data regulator, it took nine months for the case to be heard. And after that, it took six months to issue the fines.
  5. The case, and the fine, hinged on a hair-splitting of Spanish law as opposed to a perceived threat to the common weal.

You can read the full account here. The impression you’ll get is that this case was really, really important to lawyers. The cookies in question were, by the court’s own admission, “not uncommon or particularly intrusive to individuals’ privacy”.

Europe’s first and, to date, only cookie law fine was an academic exercise designed to prove a point rather than safeguard consumer privacy: a rattling of sabres that was never truly in the public interest. If this is what it takes to fine a company less than an hour’s worth of revenues, its reputation as Europe’s only cookie law fine will stand for a very long time.

Needless to say, in the 15 months that Spanish solicitors kept their fee clocks running on this case, Spain cheerfully tracked 60 million of its citizens’ domestic phone calls for the NSA during one month alone.

About the author

Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.

2 thoughts on “The mythical beast known as the cookie law fine emerges

  1. This is an interesting story and I think you’re right, it does show this whole thing to be a little silly.

    Also, I now feel bad about not supporting my local ‘mom and pop’ jewellery stores.

    • Thanks Ian. Indeed, fines only work when they are punitive. An eighteen month court case resulting in a fine equivalent to perhaps ten minutes of that business’s income says a lot about opportunism and nothing about improved consumer privacy.

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