Businesses have been urged to use technology to make it easier for people to manage their online identities - while consumers must accept not all data sharing is 'bad'.
Laurence Kaye, publishing and digital media specialist at national law firm Shoosmiths, wonders how many people bother to read and understand the different 'cookies' that are set when they visit websites.
He was speaking at the European Association of Search and Database Publishers (EASDP) Congress, in Amsterdam, which this year focused on the importance of data.
Kaye addressed delegates about upcoming changes to data protection law that are likely to affect the tracking, profiling and targeting of individuals for online advertising and other purposes, by broadening the definition of 'personal data'.
Kaye said: "Think about the rather clunky way in which people give consent to cookies, which are small pieces of data sent from a website and stored in a user's web browser.
"When visiting a website, how many bother to click through to understand the first and third party cookies that the website may serve to your computer?
"Most just want to get rid of the pop-up box."
Kaye told delegates: "We need technology that makes it easier for individuals to manage their online identity, so that the nature, extent and types of permissions we give to third parties to use and share information about us can be varied according to particular contexts and instances."
And he said that data rich companies will have to learn how to deal with the proposed new 'right to be forgotten', a proposed new law enabling people to ask for data about them to be deleted. Businesses would have to comply unless there are 'legitimate' grounds to keep it.
Kaye added: "Data protection law must hit the right balance between consumer privacy and business' need for 'big' data, which is increasingly being analysed to profile consumers. It's a huge challenge, and needs a sensible approach that weighs the risks of serious harm to consumer privacy with the need for free-flowing business information.
"After all, data has become an essential part of everyday life. Without 'local' data, we cannot navigate our private lives; and without business or 'big' data, we cannot conduct business. 'Good' data has become the lifeblood of our businesses."
EASDP has almost 130 members in 35 countries worldwide, including in all 27 EU member states. They include search companies, social networks, publishers, suppliers of products and services for the search and publishing industries, and four national associations representing hundreds of publishers.