Regulating behaviours on the European Union internet, the case of spam versus cookies

Elinor Carmi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the soft-law politics of regulating behaviours on the internet in the European Union (EU) context. It shows the struggles behind internet standards, and delegation of power to commercial actors, while looking at spam and web-cookies as a case study. This article argues that by creating a false division between private and public spaces on the internet, it was possible to legitimize certain practices over others, despite being similar. In this way, spam was categorized as unsolicited communication associated with private space, whereas web-cookies were categorized as wanted communication in public space. By influencing and lobbying EU legislation and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) technical standards, the advertising industry and tech companies simultaneously authorize and institutionalize their own practices and illegalize people’s ‘problematic’ behaviour and other advertising companies. In this way, EU legislation and internet standards create a naturalized discourse that institutionalizes the roles of different actors in the online market, while emphasizing the central role of commercial actors in creating, defining, managing and enforcing the online market. Thus, spam operates as a regulatory tool applied to any type of behaviour that can interfere with the functioning of the EU e-commerce.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-307
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Review of Law, Computers & Technology
Issue number3
Early online date20 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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