Freedom of Expression and the Dutch Cookie-Wall

Amsterdam Law School Research Paper No. 2013-66

Institute for Information Law Research Paper No. 2013-06

23 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2013 Last revised: 10 Jan 2014

See all articles by Natali Helberger

Natali Helberger

University of Amsterdam - Institute for Information Law (IViR)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: November 7, 2013


On October 2012, a large share of Dutch websites, including the websites of the leading Dutch newspapers but also of the public service media forced their users to accept tracking technologies (cookies) before being allowed to enter. The Dutch cookie-walls were a response to, or rather: act of resistance against a new Dutch law that was originally meant to protect users privacy vis-à-vis the placing of cookies. The incident is not only an interesting example of how website publishers in the Netherlands managed quite successfully to get rid of an uncomfortable law. The incident also gives rise to a number of more fundamental concerns about tracking, profiling and the personalization of media content. This paper will discuss three in particular. One concerns the transition from “broadcasting” to personalized or even intimate media, and speculates about the norms and guiding principles that should govern this new symbiosis between the media and audiences. The second concerns the pricing of media access. The paper will argue that current rhetoric’s of a "public’s right to free access to media content", a popular idea in European media policy, is misleading and diverts attention from the fact that users always pay "a fee" for media content, be it in the form of money, attention or personal data. The real question is when and under which conditions the price of access to media content becomes too high, for example in situations that people are forced to accept hundreds of cookies in the process. The paper will then, thirdly, turn to a key player in the Dutch cookie-wall debate, public broadcasting, and examine how the cookie-walls, and more generally, targeting and personalization strategies relate to the public service media’s mission to provide the public with universal access to a broad range of diverse content from diverse sources, also online.

Keywords: targeting, profiling, cookies, cookie-walls, media personalisation, free services, information user

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Helberger, Natali, Freedom of Expression and the Dutch Cookie-Wall (November 7, 2013). Amsterdam Law School Research Paper No. 2013-66, Institute for Information Law Research Paper No. 2013-06, Available at SSRN: or

Natali Helberger (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam - Institute for Information Law (IViR) ( email )

Kloveniersburgwal 48
1012 CX Amsterdam


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