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Japan to give internet users more control of their browsing data

  • November 30, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia
  • English Press

TOKYO — The Japanese government will require that website operators give internet users a way to keep their browsing data out of the hands of third parties as it moves to address growing privacy and security concerns, Nikkei has learned.


The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications will start studying concrete measures in December, with an eye on amending the telecommunications and business law and guidelines. Besides addressing privacy and security concerns, Japan intends to move closer to international standards.


The ministry will set rules regarding the practice of selling browsing data to third parties such as advertising agencies. The data can be used to personalize ads, but many consumers are growing more uncomfortable as they realize their browsing and other online behavior is being tracked.


Currently, Japan has no clear user consent rules. The communications ministry plans to ban website operators from furnishing a user’s data to a third party unless that party has gained prior consent directly from the user. All businesses with websites will be required to follow the regulation. Companies that do not provide browsing data to third parties but use it themselves to improve their service will be excluded.


In some cases, major companies already display a request for consent that users are asked to click. However, many companies provide data to third parties without obtaining prior consent. Under the new mandate, users will be able to refuse to allow their browsing history to be passed on, even after they finish browsing.


Many companies outsource the running of their websites to contractors and do not fully grasp how data collected from their sites is shared. The ministry believes it is necessary to ensure that data sharing can be terminated upon the request of users.


Under the Personal Information Protection Law of Japan, browsing history is not considered personal information. As a result, the data is being collected and used without consent. Experts have raised concerns and say Japan is behind other countries when it comes to data protection.


In the EU, discussions on tightening rules regarding the obtaining of user consent have been proceeding in recent years. Draft regulations require website owners that provide cookie data to third parties to obtain user consent.

Although there are no uniform rules in the U.S., it is often possible for users to refuse to allow website operators to share their data.


Apple, which markets itself as being concerned about user privacy, has added a function to its Safari web browser that can safeguard a user’s browsing data and keep it from being passed on. Google is planning a similar feature, and other internet giants are competing to strengthen their own privacy protections.


When Japan introduces its regulation, users will have an easier time refusing to allow their data to be shared.


Advertisement distributors and browsing data analysts are expected to be especially hard hit. These types of companies will find it difficult to expand, which may lead the online advertising industry to shift its business model.

The clampdown could create demand for privacy-friendly alternative technologies.


There is also a view that conglomerates like Google and Apple, which hoover up huge troves of data from their own operations, will grow even more dominant, and that the situation will make it even more imperative to create a fair competitive environment that ensures privacy.


The communications ministry will have to design a system that considers all of these matters.

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