If the European Commission has anything to say about it, starting about 18 months from now companies will have to start obtaining consent from Web site visitors to place cookies on their computers.

Last week, the European Parliament approved amendments to Europe’s e-Privacy Directive (see page 76, item 5) requiring, among other things, that operators of Web sites obtain a user’s consent before placing a cookie on the user’s computer.  “Cookies” are digital files that are routinely placed on a user’s computer when they visit a Web site.  These files are used for many purposes, including to save a user’s name and password so they can be pre-populated in a Web site’s log-in page; to enable Web sites to engage in behavioral marketing by displaying ads that are keyed to a user’s browsing history; to enable Web sites to perform analyses of the demographics of the site’s visitors and what areas of the site are most popular; and to save the contents of a user’s online shopping cart.