How many people know about affiliate marketing

The Internet Cookie and Tracking in Online Marketing: An Overview

When surfing the Internet, not everyone necessarily gets it. But anyone who reads the news in the online magazine, orders a pizza from the comfort of home or searches for a new smartphone on Amazon does not go unnoticed: website operators and companies (merchants) want to understand what the individual interests of the visitors are and whether they will return to the website.

The following applies: The more extensive the user surfing profile, the more valuable the data obtained for optimizing (personalized) advertising. How do merchants and online partners of the providers (affiliates) proceed?

The article series “Tracking Methods in Affiliate Marketing” is an attempt to illustrate the complex topic of cookies and various tracking methods.

Most internet users and affiliates undoubtedly know that cookies are not an edible pastry, but what exactly cookies store and how it is used in online marketing may go beyond the actual horizon of knowledge.

The literature on the Internet is also sometimes confusing and presented too briefly. The articles on Affiliate Deals are intended to provide an overview of the topic. In order to understand the interrelationships, let's start with the basic questions: What exactly is a cookie and what does it store?

What is a cookie?

A cookie is a data set that is stored by the web server of a website operator (e.g. Amazon) in the browser (e.g. Google Chrome) of the website visitor. As an illustration:

The Internet user enters the web address “” in the address bar in the browser or follows a link from his favorite page about fantasy and adventure books, where he gets to Amazon.

From a technical point of view, the user's browser sends a request to the web server on which the Amazon website is located. The web server answers this request (also known as a request) and sends the content of the website back to the browser - now the user can view the website within a few (milli-) seconds, an everyday occurrence on the Internet.

But: The web server on which the website is located can send one or more cookies at the same time. The cookie information is usually stored locally in the website visitor's browser (also known as the client browser).

The website operator can use the set cookie file to identify returning visitors, among other things, as he recognizes those cookies from the client browser that contain the same domain name as the website operator's web server (such as In order to protect visitors, this ensures that cookies are never read by websites other than Amazon and vice versa.

So-called third-party cookies are an exception. To understand the cookies tracking principle in affiliate marketing, let's take a closer look at this example.

Third party cookies

An expressive website usually consists of text, images, videos and other multimedia elements.

Often, images in the form of advertising, such as advertising banners, are not provided by the website's web server, but rather by the advertising provider's servers. The advertising space is either placed by the website operator himself (online partner) or advertisers buy the advertising boxes in order to present their advertising in a targeted manner.

The latter is a type of provider that is generally called “third-party provider” because they also store cookies in the user's (client) browser: third-party cookies.

Thus, with the help of the stored cookies in the client browser, merchants can track which website is particularly lucrative for advertising and which is not - thanks to the cookies set, companies know exactly when which website was accessed.

The structure of a cookie

A cookie file is a combination of characters consisting of numbers and letters that assigns a specific identity to the user or saves settings in the browser (for example the language setting if several language options can be selected on the website).

Cookies contain:

  • a name.
  • a text value.
  • certain properties, the most important property is the service life; this indicates how long the cookie should be stored in the client browser. If the so-called cookie runtime is missing (usually 30 to 60 days), the cookie is automatically deleted when the browser is closed.

What do cookies store?

In short: information. A distinction should be made here between relevant information for website operators and the advantage for Internet users.

1. Goal for website operators: user identification and surfing profiles

Cookies contain information about:

  • Duration of the user's visit
  • Origin (Germany), click path (via Google search) and device (smartphone or PC) of the user
  • Input from the user
  • Preferences and browser settings of the user (especially important for online shops)

With certain web tools such as Google Analytics, website operators can use cookie information to find out how visitors use the site (see “Tracking in online marketing”). The user profile obtained is particularly useful for commercial providers, as they can turn the user into a regular visitor by switching personalized advertising.

For example, if you are a regular visitor to Amazon and are often looking for adventure books there, product suggestions from the same category will be displayed in the future. If you do not like the placement of personalized advertising, you can display the individual advertising offer in your account.

Then we call up the website and look under “Settings” what exactly happened in this short time and actually: a total of 23 websites (e.g. Amazon, Google, Zanox or as third-party providers) have 39 data, including 35 cookies, stored in our browser. And that just by calling up the Amazon homepage! (As of: January 8, 2014)

Lets move on. The LG advertising banner on the Amazon homepage with the 3D Smart TV looks promising and is clicked. Mind you, the second click after deleting our locally stored cookies and website data in the browser. What happens if we want to see the cookies saved in the settings?

Now a total of 25 websites have 47 data stored in our browser, 2 websites and 8 data more than a click before. (As of: January 8, 2014)

The principle of cookie storage by website servers continues as you continue to surf the net. If you want to use the internet without restrictions, you have to come to terms with it for better or worse. A small consolation would be the second option of the setting options for handling cookies: “Delete local data after closing the browser” (see “Self-management of cookies”).

2. Goal for Internet users: Simplify what you do on the web

Cookies simplify important processes on the Internet for users, for example:

  • Saving username and password when logging in (email, forums, social networks, etc.)
  • Registration of products, for example in the virtual online shopping cart
  • Intermediate storage of user actions and inputs if the server connection is lost
  • desired language setting of the website

Self-management of cookies

Cookies are only managed by the internet user himself. This means that every user can save, view, block and delete cookies.

With the Google Chrome browser:

  1. “Customize and set Google Chrome” (three bars to the right of the address bar)
  2. "Settings"
  3. “Show advanced settings” (below)
  4. Click on “Content settings” under the heading “Privacy”
  5. under “Cookies” click on “All cookies and website data”; there you can view and remove the locally saved data

As a rule, cookies are not malicious, but due to their areas of application they entail risks for the user (more on this in the article series III “Dangers and the legal controversy of tracking”).

Therefore, many browsers allow the user specific setting options for handling cookies.

With the Google Chrome browser:

  1. "Customize and set Google Chrome" (three bars to the right of the address bar)
  2. "Settings"
  3. “Show advanced settings” (below)
  4. Click on “Content settings” under the heading “Privacy”
  5. The following options are available under “Cookies”:
  • Allow / restrict storage of local data (cookies)
  • Delete local data (cookies) after exiting the browser
  • Block storage of data (cookies) for all websites (do not accept cookies)
  • Additional option: delete third-party cookies and website data (only accept cookies from the server of the accessed page)

However, if you want to consistently block cookies for all websites (option 3), you should know the following:

For example, if you have a Google account and use other Google products, you have to put up with the activation of cookies, as all Google services use cookies. Otherwise, the following situation arises, for example:

If you enter your name and password into Google E-Mail and click on “Sign in”, you will be asked to log in again. The browser does not seem to be able to remember the login data.

Tracking in online marketing

In general, tracking (also lane formation or tracking) includes according to Wikipedia:

"All processing steps that serve the simultaneous tracking of (moving) objects."

In online marketing, tracking is used to describe the recording and evaluation of user behavior on the Internet, and accordingly the reading of the personal movement profile on a visited website with the help of cookies.

The analysis data recorded with so-called tracking tools, such as Google Analytics, have become an important tool in online marketing.

The advantage for website operators:

  • Make the page more customer-friendly.
  • Reduction of visitor drop-outs.
  • Target group-oriented marketing of products.

When tracking, special data protection requirements must be observed to protect users in order to prevent misuse. Reading along with personal Internet use is heavily discussed in the media, which is why the last article in the series of articles draws attention to the dangers of tracking and legal controversies.

Now that we have clarified the basic terms “cookies” and “tracking”, in the next article we will talk about the most frequently used remuneration principles in affiliate marketing with the help of cookies.

Tracking methods in affiliate marketing

In affiliate marketing, tracking ensures that a commission is paid out to publishers. It is determined which publisher was involved in an advertising material contact so that the commission can be correctly assigned to the respective publisher after a successful transaction.

Either the tracking is secured within the networks that are in an interrelationship between the merchant or his agency or directly with the merchant, if the merchant prefers an in-house partner program as a network alternative.

An important criterion in affiliate marketing is the clear tracing of the advertising material contacts in the case of successful deals, i.e. through which partner the customer was made aware of the product. Various tracking methods, so-called tracking processes, are used for this purpose. With the help of a publisher code, which the partner receives from the merchant or the affiliate network, the specific allocation of the generated turnover takes place when participating.

Tracking can be implemented using various approaches. In the article, we introduce you to the most common cookie tracking methods and others in partner programs.

Affiliate Program Cookie Tracking Methods

1. The (standard) cookie tracking

With standard or browser cookie tracking, a cookie is stored in the user's browser when there is contact with advertising material. It contains, for example, the publisher identification code, which is why this can be determined in the event of a successful transaction with the merchant. The publisher can then be paid a commission.

Advantages for publishers:

  • long cookie runtime, successful transactions can also be assigned to the publisher later
  • inconspicuous method, the advertising link is not recognizable from the URL

Disadvantages for publishers:

  • Depending on the user's cookie settings, cookies can be deleted or blocked by the user
  • short cookie duration determines the validity of the partner commission
  • browser-dependent, i.e. the user has to carry out the transaction with exactly the same browser so that publishers are also allocated a commission if they have previously contacted the advertising material
  • User distrust because of data protection, with the help of cookies, detailed user profiles can be created that can be misused by advertisers

2. Postview tracking

While with standard cookie tracking an active click by the user on an advertising medium is billed (click cookie), postview tracking in affiliate marketing works without a click by the user (view cookie). In this way, the publisher receives a commission even if a user has only seen an advertising space but has not clicked it.

Postview tracking is also generated via cookies in the client browser, which store which advertisements are shown to the user. The publisher receives a commission after the user visits the merchant's website after (supposedly) viewing the advertisement and makes a deal.

Advantages for publishers:

  • the probability of a commission is higher because the user does not need to actively click on the advertising material
  • receives commission regardless of whether the user has consciously or unconsciously perceived the advertising material

Disadvantages for publishers:

  • Postview cookies are of low quality and can be overwritten by click cookies.Many merchants avoid the postview tracking process, as the risk of misuse by publishers is very high, e.g. showing very small advertising materials or banners outside the field of vision, etc.

Due to the high distribution of cookies during postview tracking on the part of the publishers, the tracking method is often only accessible to a small group of affiliates. These are often in close dialogue with the merchant, who particularly relies on affiliate websites with large amounts of traffic.

3. The Flash Cookie Tracking

Flash cookies are often used as an alternative to standard cookie tracking. They are not saved in the user's browser, but in a folder of the Adobe Flash Player. Flash cookie tracking is therefore only possible for users who have installed Adobe Flash Player. This is currently installed in almost every Internet browser.

The flash cookie as a supplement to the browser cookie (also known as the HTTP cookie) is particularly effective if a standard cookie is not accepted due to the user settings. The flash cookie is useful as a kind of backup if the user deletes the HTTP cookies, which are available again on the basis of the data in the flash cookie when they visit the site again.

Advantages for publishers:

  • Cross-browser support, Flash cookies are tracked in all browsers installed on the same computer
  • Flash cookies are more difficult to delete by the user and have more storage space than browser cookies
  • Flash cookies do not delete browser cookies

Disadvantages for publishers:

  • Users must have Adobe Flash Player installed
  • User mistrust due to data protection, due to the Flash Player plugin, the user data is stored centrally and browser-independent in the file system structure of the operating system used

Other tracking methods for affiliate programs

1 The URL tracking

URL tracking is the simplest tracking method. With this method, certain parameters or IDs of the affiliate are written directly into the HTML code when a user visits the website and clicks on the ad. The partner ID becomes part of the URL of the merchant partner page as soon as the user clicks on the link, for example

Based on the transmitted parameters, the merchant can precisely identify the affiliate and reward him with a commission if the customer concludes a deal. All links that the user calls up during his visit to the Merchant website are taken into account.

Advantages for publishers:

  • easy implementation
  • regardless of the user's browser settings

Disadvantages for publishers:

  • eye-catching tracking method, as the user can identify the affiliate link immediately
  • The publisher only receives a commission if the visitor is directed directly from the affiliate website to the merchant page and immediately makes a deal (lead, sale)

2. The database tracking

The database is a possibility that is often used in in-house affiliate programs. Individual parameters such as the affiliate ID and the customer ID are stored in a database. This means that before the actual purchase, visitors have to register on the Merchant website via a login on the affiliate site.After registering and clicking on the affiliate link, the unique customer ID is permanently assigned to the respective partner in a database.

If the visitor makes a deal on the merchant website, this can be clearly assigned to the affiliate who previously asked him to log in. The affiliate receives a commission from the merchant for the mediated contact.

Advantages for publishers:

  • regardless of the technology and settings of the user
  • reliable provisioning, even for follow-up transactions by the visitor
  • attractive method for lifetime commissions

Disadvantages for publishers:

  • User distrust because of data protection due to the storage of customer data in the database
  • Distortion of the competitive situation if visitors are already assigned to another affiliate with a different customer ID
  • The customer has to register on the first visit in order to receive a customer ID

3. Session tracking

Session tracking is a popular tracking method, although it is detrimental to affiliates. Here, every visitor to a Merchant website receives an automatically generated session ID, which is communicated using various methods. The assigned session ID can also be assigned to the affiliate and his partner ID by means of a link in the advertising material.

Possible methods would be the one Authorization of the user. Here the user is identified by his individual login data. In the Hidden Fields Method transmit hidden form fields when submitting information about the visitor to whom a session ID is assigned. The most common method is that URL rewriting. The visitor is assigned certain parameters via the URL, for example a session or user ID, for example the normal URL changes to the rewritten URL = 1234. Also with the help of Cookies session tracking is applicable. As soon as the visitor sends a request to the server, the server assigns the user a session ID and sends the information to the client browser via a cookie. Since the visitor can only be identified by the set cookie, this method does not work if cookies are deactivated.

All actions that the visitor takes within the created session can be clearly assigned to the publisher, who receives a commission payment if the user concludes the session.

Advantages for publishers:

    Session tracking is also possible when cookies are deactivated in the client browser

Disadvantages for publishers

  • only actions of the user within the session can be clearly assigned to the affiliate, i.e. there is no tracking when the user leaves the page or closes the browser

4. Pixel tracking

Pixel tracking is often used by affiliate networks. Usually a tracking pixel is a 1 × 1 large image in GIF format that is integrated into the HTML code of one or more pages of the merchant. In addition, an HTML snippet is integrated into the affiliate's website for identification.

After a visitor clicks on an advertising link on the affiliate website, they are directed for a fraction of a second via an affiliate network, a cookie is set there and then arrives at the merchant website. If he concludes a transaction on a page with a tracking pixel, the affiliate can be clearly identified by the affiliate network.

Advantages for publishers:

  • reliable provisioning, even for follow-up transactions by the visitor
  • also works with deactivated JavaScript

Disadvantages for publishers

  • Cookies must be activated in the client browser or can simply be deleted again
  • eye-catching method, as the visitor arrives at the Merchant website via a detour via the affiliate network
  • Bad loading times in the affiliate network have a negative effect on the loading time when clicking the affiliate link

5. The fingerprint tracking

Fingerprint tracking with the individual fingerprint is still rarely offered in affiliate marketing, but is becoming more and more established as an alternative to cookies. Even if users deactivate cookies in their browser, they can still be identified using a fingerprint. With the fingerprint method, system data are requested from the visitor's computer, for example the IP address, as well as browser and computer configurations.

The affiliate ID of the affiliate can also be recorded through extensions if the user reaches the merchant via an affiliate website and carries out a transaction.

Advantages for publishers:

  • regardless of the user's temporary cookie and browser settings
  • Tracking possible on multiple devices

Disadvantages for publishers:

  • User mistrust due to data protection due to an indelible fingerprint profile

The cookie tracking principle in affiliate marketing

Cookies tracking methods are the most widely used method in affiliate marketing to assign users to the corresponding affiliate, which is why other tracking methods will only be discussed in more detail in the next article - also due to the weaknesses of tracking cookies

The last article “The Internet Cookie and Tracking in Online Marketing” deals with the basic information of the four-part series of articles. In particular, the questions “What is a cookie? What does a cookie store and what is tracking in online marketing? " got to the bottom of it and stated that every internet user understands the principle of internet cookies.

The cookies tracking principle clearly explained

Patrick and Anne (Internet user) like to order books on the internet. They share a common passion: fantasy novels. That's why they like to browse their favorite web site for new books.

The website operator Martin (ambitious affiliate) runs the website that Patrick and Anne likes to visit on the subject of fantasy and adventure books.

He regularly posts new reviews of current books and shares his personal evaluation. In every post he links the reviewed books so that interested book lovers can read them directly on Amazon (Merchant) be able to look at and order.

As soon as potential customers like Patrick and Anne click on the link, two things happen:

1. You get directly from Martin's affiliate page to the merchant (to a special book).

2. A tracking cookie is stored on the Amazon site in Patrick and Anne's browser in order to provide them with a “personal recognition value”.

Through the use of cookies, the merchant can track whether the user has already been to his site, even with temporal interruptions in Internet activity, and - very important in affiliate marketing - track the user's click path (in the sense of “the potential customer comes from the and the side on our side ”).

As an an example:

Image 1) Affiliate page:, on the start page is the book “The Legion. The Circle of Five ”by Kami Garcia displayed with a link to Amazon.

Image 2) After clicking the link, the user arrives at Amazon, the merchant sets a cookie that saves that the Internet user has reached Amazon via the book link on the affiliate page. At the same time, other cookies are also stored in the client browser.

The advantage for merchants:

When merchants start an affiliate program, this marketing channel aims to draw as many interested visitors as possible to the site. Ideally, you want visitors to complete a purchase.

Online partners (affiliates) help merchants to better market their products. The more publishers advertise the affiliate program in a more serious and popular manner, the more likely the popularity of the merchant and thus the increase in goods sold.

The advantage for publishers

Affiliates have the opportunity to earn money with their website. one option would be to apply for affiliate programs. By clicking on advertising material such as banners or individual title links, visitors to the affiliate page go to the merchant page (e.g. Amazon) or can take advantage of offers from the merchant on the affiliate page (e.g. tariff calculator).

The publisher receives a code from the merchant, which he embeds on his website. The cookie, which is saved by the merchant in the client browser when the advertising material is clicked, identifies the particular affiliate and enables a specific assignment.

Without cookie tracking, the merchant would not have been able to see that the affiliate page was drawing the visitor's attention to the offer. The publisher is rewarded by the merchant by receiving a commission

The three most common compensation models are:

  • Pay per click (PPC), the affiliate receives a commission (around 0.02-0.30 euros per click) for every visitor who clicks on an advertising space.
  • Pay per lead (PPL), the affiliate receives a commission if a visitor reaches the merchant website via the affiliate link and carries out a free action there, e.g. subscribing to a newsletter or taking part in a competition. The earning potential for the affiliate is approximately between 0.20 and 10 euros. A purchase is not necessary as the affiliate is rewarded for a lead (e.g. hint, trace).
  • Pay per sale (PPS), the affiliate receives a commission when a visitor reaches the merchant page via the affiliate link and makes a purchase (sale) there. The amount of the commission differs greatly, depending on the company and product type.

In the Amazon partner program, the commission for affiliates is between 5 and 9 percent of the value of the goods (PPS).

The cookie runtime

A special advantage for publishers: the visitor who has reached the merchant's page via the affiliate link does not have to immediately decide to buy a product or to take part in a competition.

The cookie duration of the “affiliate link activated by one click” defines the period of time for how long the publisher receives a commission for a brokered lead or sale. So: for how long after the ad click is a publisher paid for a sale or lead?

This period is usually 30, sometimes 60 or 90 days. The cookie lifespan on Amazon is quite short at 24 hours.

Nevertheless, this regulation guarantees that the affiliate will be remunerated as a partner, even if the visitor does not immediately decide on a purchase or lead. The cookie stored in the client browser guarantees the affiliate a possible commission depending on the cookie lifespan.

Tracking cookies are therefore important due to:

  • > the identification of the affiliate.
  • the period of remuneration for affiliates.

Three mechanisms of the cookie compensation models for affiliates

In online marketing there are currently three common cookie tracking mechanisms that merchants use to pay their partners.

1. First cookie wins

In this case, the first cookie that is stored in the client browser wins when it clicks on an advertiser's advertising material on an affiliate partner's website.

If the user concludes a transaction on the merchant page within the period of time specified by the cookie term, the affiliate partner stored in the cookie is paid a commission.

Regardless of whether the visitor reaches the target page of the advertising medium via other affiliate pages at a later point in time, only the first cookie set counts. The affiliate who first made the user aware of the brand is rewarded.

2. Last cookie wins

The last cookie wins model (LCW) is in principle the opposite of the first cookie wins method (FCW) presented above.

With this model, the last cookie set in the client browser wins, i.e. the channel that convinces the user to close. In this way, the affiliate who last redirected the visitor to the target page with an active click and brought him to a conclusion is rewarded.

This compensation method is currently the most common method compared to the FCW model, where the partner who made the initial contact receives a commission. About ⅔ of the affiliates want the commission to be assigned to the partner who made the last contact and to whom the purchase was made.

3. Customer journey

However, some believe that the LCW or FCW method does not ensure a causal effect from the affiliates' point of view, since every lead or sale is 100 percent attributed to the first or last contact.

In reality, the customer journey consists of many contacts, the effect of which should be taken into account for the final conclusion. Thus, every single contact point, whether view or click, should be analyzed and evaluated within a customer journey - for many a fair method of distributing commissions to participating affiliates.

The classification takes place in “first, assist and last contacts”, where each publisher is divided into a certain commission model depending on the priority of the contact types of the user.

A cookie switch ensures the precise allocation of the involvement and effectiveness of publishers within the customer journey on a technical level. For example, a visual contact (view cookie) of the user is to be classified as lower than a click (click cookie) on the advertising material. In this case, the click cookie is given a higher priority, which also has an impact on a higher commission.

Overall, the model of the customer journey is very complex, taking into account various variables that have an impact on the user journey through to completion.

These include, for example:

  • the number of contacts
  • the type of contact
  • the contact order
  • the contact positions
  • the length of the customer journey
  • the time until the purchase

The interaction of the factors provides information about which percentage of success each publisher is assigned to the customer journey.

Now that you know more about the cookie tracking principle in affiliate marketing and the three common cookie remuneration models for affiliates, the next article in the article series will deal with cookie tracking methods and others in partner programs. You have already heard of two cookie tracking methods in this post: the view and the click cookie - more on this in the next post.

Do you agree that, according to surveys, the last cookie wins method is the fairest model of commission payment?

Dangers of cookie tracking for users

Companies are under pressure in the advertising market: on the one hand, they are interested in collecting more and more data about customers, on the other hand, they fear that strictly regulated laws against tracking will be passed - and rightly so.

The confusing use of cookies is already shown in the previous posts in the series of articles. For example, if a user visits the website of an online shop, several cookies are stored in their browser. The process continues throughout the Internet. What dangers should users be aware of?

1. Cookie dropping as internet fraud in affiliate marketing

As the case of Shawn Hogan from the USA shows, illegal cookie spamming can occur in affiliate marketing. Normally, a cookie is stored in the browser for the user when he / she actively clicks on a corresponding advertising medium. With cookie dropping, this click is generated artificially, that is, a cookie is stored in the browser for the user without having actively clicked on an affiliate advertising medium.

Users can view the stored cookies in the content settings and then delete the browser data - if they wish. According to statista, in 2014 around 46.6 million Internet users in Germany delete or suppress 30.87 million cookies - double the number of those who do not delete or suppress cookies (10.6 million) or who do not know or do not provide any information (4.93 million).

The statistics show that two thirds of German Internet users are aware of the existence of browser cookies and delete or suppress them - proof of the relatively high level of media literacy.

Cookies do not pose a direct security risk for internet users, but unwanted cookies violate the transparency of the method and can further sharpen individual user profiles - even outside of affiliate marketing.

2. Cookie tracking for creating user profiles on the Internet

Through cookie tracking, correct user profiles can be created, which not only guarantee individualized Internet use, but also record the entire behavior, personal preferences and interests of the user. Many users complain about the cross-page recording of their Internet movements, for example Google's web tracking service “Google Analytics”, which can also save the IP address of the user.

Further allegations of espionage have come to the fore due to the NSA scandal. According to a FAZ article, the American secret service misuses Google cookies to spy on the surfing behavior of Internet users. The NSA links surfing behavior with the identity of the user. The secret service is then supposed to install targeted spy software for suspicious people.

The concern that data is being illegally misused by actors is justified based on the example for many data protectionists. Above all, the ignorance of users about the further use of their data provides a foundation for the existing data protection debate.

3. Lack of transparency for internet users

Internet users are well aware of the functionality of cookies. However, due to worrying news, many do not know whether their data is safe. If in doubt, they lack insight into the cookie tracking process. Ultimately, cookies are stored in the Internet user's browser and sometimes also collect private information. The advertising industry argues that any stored data does not have an individual assignment and the person behind it remains anonymous. Data protectionists, on the other hand, see users' privacy as threatened.

Overall, there is no transparent solution to the discussion, so that website operators are no longer in the dock and Internet users receive a trustworthy insight into the cookie tracking process.

An overall European solution would certainly be an advantage here for uniform legislation. Only in this way can violations of data protection regulations be legally prosecuted.

The legal controversy of data retention

"Are IP addresses personal data or not?" - This question continues to preoccupy the current data retention controversy. The Federal Court of Justice turns on the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which is supposed to deal with this very question.

Based on the lawsuit of the Kiel pirate politician Patrick Breyer against the Federal Republic of Germany that automatically storing and passing on IP addresses of website visitors beyond the duration of use is a violation of the Telemedia Act (TMG), the ECJ will clarify whether IP addresses are actually considered personal data that must be protected by European data protection.

According to TMG §15, the storage of personal data without the consent of the user is prohibited unless they are required for billing purposes. According to Breyer, this would not be the case with the use of a general Internet offer beyond just establishing a connection. This means that tracking can be viewed as a violation of applicable law without the consent of the Internet user. The EU Directive 2009/136 / EC stipulates that the user must give their consent before a cookie can be set to create a profile.

Andrea Voßhoff, Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, welcomes the involvement of the ECJ in this fundamental question. She says:

“The discussions that have been going on for years on the question of whether IP addresses are personal and are subject to data protection law if they are stored by a website provider show that a submission to the ECJ makes sense […]. The common European legal bases, especially the current data protection regulation, require a uniform interpretation and a harmonized approach to fundamental issues. "

The EU Commission is currently conducting a survey among the EU member states as to whether a new directive on data retention is desired and what it could look like. Although the European Union has been stipulating a uniform cookie directive since May 25, 2011 (the deadline for transposing Directive 2009/136 / EC into national law has expired), it is still controversial whether the user must actively consent to the use of cookies (Opt-in) or the user can, for example, object to the use of cookies by adjusting the browser settings (opt-out).

As a result of the legal leeway, the member states of the EU implement the directive differently. Germany has not yet implemented the directive into national law - an official implementation act was not adopted by the Bundestag in March 2011 and other legislative initiatives also failed. According to the European Commission, the legal situation in Germany already complies with the requirements of the European directive. It remains to be seen whether the free choice between the opt-in and opt-out approach is not in favor of the stricter implementation and whether it is necessary to obtain clear consent from the user (opt-in).


There is great legal uncertainty regarding the question of whether cookies even provide personal data in terms of data protection. Many specialist lawyers are of the opinion that the theoretical possibility of identifying the Internet user from the IP address is sufficient. The dichotomy of cookies will not ease the debate about a uniform regulation. Without them, surfing is no fun for many Internet users, but for reasons of data protection law they are also negatively targeted. In addition to a legal agreement, the active awareness of the user about the use of cookies is extremely important (see statistics). This is the only way to prevent possible dangers.