Law revision eyed to stop firms sharing browsing history data without user consent

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Some software allows users not to have their browsing data shared.

Operators of internet sites and apps will have to obtain consent from users when providing their browsing history to advertising companies, under a proposal being considered by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

Browsing history data can be used to display ads that are tailored to the individual preferences of users.

The ministry is considering revising the Telecommunications Business Law, as the protection of personal data has been identified as an important issue.

An expert panel is currently discussing proposals and the government is aiming to pass legislation next year.

Internet browsers can temporarily store the browsing history of users. Advertising companies can receive the information to analyze it and create targeted ads, displaying products they think a user is likely to purchase.

In some circumstances, if web users search for products online on a home computer, they might also see advertising related to the product on their work computer when using the same browser. Many people are unhappy about products related to their personal preferences appearing on their screens.

Under the ministry’s proposal, operators would have to get consent from users to share their browsing history and other kinds of data with external parties.

As a general rule, consent would have to be confirmed before users view the site or use the app, but exceptions will be made if there is a mechanism under which users can opt out of sharing their data after using the service.

As browsing history does not include the names or addresses of users, it is not considered personal data under the Personal Information Protection Law. It is also not subject to the “confidentiality of communications” under the Telecommunications Business Law, which prohibits the leaking of personal calls and emails to third parties.

At present, browsing history data can be shared with third parties regardless of the user’s wishes.

A member of the communications ministry’s expert panel expressed the need for legislation at a recent meeting.

The European Union has been at the forefront of initiatives to develop rules regarding user data.

Browsing history is personal data under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which came into effect in 2018, and the regulation prohibits the sharing of such data without the consent of users.

Companies have also started to take action.

Apple Inc. and other firms have developed software that allows users to opt out of sharing browsing data with third parties.

The spotlight has fallen on browsing history because of the rapid growth of online advertising, especially targeted advertising.

According to advertising giant Dentsu Inc., the size of the domestic advertising market in 2020 was ¥6.1 trillion, of which online advertising accounted for ¥2.2 trillion, or 36%.

The online advertising sector has continued to grow, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Japan Interactive Advertising Association is calling for advertising companies to provide a system that allows users to make their own decisions on how their data is used.

The convenience of being shown products one is likely to be interested in might be an appealing factor for some users, but “the fact that browsing history data is being shared with external parties is not widely known,” said lawyer Ryoji Mori, who is on the ministry panel.