The new bureaucracy: Cookie Law

The new Bureaucracy: The Cookie Law

The Cookie Law is a piece of privacy legislation that requires websites to get consent from visitors to store or retrieve any information on a computer, smartphone or tablet. It was designed to protect online privacy, by making consumers aware of how information about them is collected and used online, and give them a choice to allow it or not.  It started as an EU Directive that was adopted by all EU countries in May 2011. The Directive gave individuals rights to refuse the use of cookies that reduce their online privacy. Each country then updated its own laws to comply. In the UK this meant an update to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. All websites owned in the EU or targeted towards EU citizens, are now expected to comply with the law. Why Cookie Law? Almost all websites use cookies - little data files - to store information in peoples' web browsers. Some websites contain hundreds of them. There are other technologies, like Flash and HTML5 Local Storage that do similar things, and these are also covered by the legislation, but as cookies are the most common technology in use, it has become known as the Cookie Law.

If you own a website, you will need to make sure it complies with the law, and this usually means making some changes. If you don't comply you risk enforcement action from regulators, which in the UK means The Information Commissioners' Office (ICO). In exceptional cases this can mean a fine. However, non-compliance could also have other, perhaps more serious consequences than enforcement.  There is plenty of evidence that consumers avoid engaging with websites where they believe their privacy is at risk, and there is a general low level of trust about web tracking by the use of cookies.

What You Should Do

Compliance with the cookie law comes down to three basic steps:

  • Work out what cookies your site sets, and what they are used for, with a cookie audit
  • Tell your visitors how you use cookies.
  • Obtain their consent.

What are Cookies Anyway?

Cookies are a kind of short term memory for the web.  They are stored in your browser and enable a site to 'remember' little bits of information between pages or visits.

They are widely used to make the web experience more personal, which is generally seen as a positive thing. However some cookies collect data across many websites, creating 'behavioural profiles' of people. These profiles can then be used to decide what content or adverts to show you. This use of cookies for targeting in particular is what the law was designed to highlight. By requiring websites to inform and obtain consent from visitors it aims to give web users more control over their online privacy.

To find out lots more about cookies in general and the different types, take a look at Cookiepedia - the leading information resource all about cookies.

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