New cookie law affecting business websites

2nd May 2012 Web design 819
New cookie law affecting business websites

On 26 May 2012, the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is to impose an EU directive designed to protect internet users' privacy. From that date, anyone with a website is legally required to provide “clear and comprehensive” information about their use of cookies. Businesses face fines of up to £500,000 if they do not comply.

Cookies explained

Cookies are small text files that are stored by the browser on your computer or mobile phone. Although they are stored on the hard drive they cannot access any other information on it. Cookies are used by web developers to help users navigate their websites efficiently and perform certain functions, for example, to enable a visitor to fill up a shopping cart or to remember the user’s preferences or registration details for a future visit.

Most cookies do not store identifying information on a visitor. They are interested in the behaviour of the person rather than their identity. Those that do track a user’s identity are usually attached to login functions or preferences on one particular website. They only contain and transfer to the server as much information as the users themselves have already disclosed.

There are various types of cookie. Session cookies are stored temporarily during a browsing session and then automatically deleted when the browser is closed. Permanent or persistent cookies remain stored on the hard drive unless actively deleted by the visitor. These retain user preferences and can be used to analyse a visitor’s surfing behaviour over a long period of time.

Third party cookies are seen as the ‘bad boys’. Users often discover cookies on their hard drives from sites that they have never visited. These are usually set by companies selling advertising on behalf of other websites meaning that a user’s information may have been passed to third party websites without their knowledge or consent. The growing concern of pressure groups and users has been enough to prompt the EU to look into the whole issue of how cookies impact a user’s privacy and has caused it to take action.

What does this mean for the website owner?

The upshot is that information on a website’s cookie use has to be upfront. “Without information people can't give consent," the ICO's principal policy adviser for technology has said. All sites will have to justify why they need to use the cookies they do.

The rules cover cookies used to provide information to advertisers, those that count the number of unique visitors to a page and those that recognise when a user has returned to a site to adjust the content that is subsequently displayed.  Exceptions are likely to be made if the cookie is only being used to ensure a page loads quickly by distributing the workload over several servers, or is employed to track a user as they add goods to a shopping basket.

The website owner must:

  • Tell people that the cookies are there
  • Explain what the cookies are doing
  • Obtain visitors' consent to store a cookie on their device
  • Explain how to reject or delete the cookies

The topic has provoked heated debate. As they enable and enhance a site’s usability or processes, disabling cookies may prevent users from getting the best out of a website. Furthermore, website owners will need to implement the new regulations in a way that does not affect the browsing experience of the visitor. If obtaining consent to install cookies becomes tiresome for the visitor they may leave the site completely. Inevitably, the serious nature of the new directive has led to a proliferation of companies offering expensive solutions.

How Dynamic Consultants can help

We will make compliance simple and painless. We only charge for the time it takes to amend your site, there will be no hidden or inflated costs.

  • We will write you a new Privacy Policy
  • We will add a new dedicated cookie page which clearly and concisely explains everything about your cookies: their names, their purpose and how to delete or reject them if desired.

Further reading: - an informative news article from the BBC - a website which has been designed specifically to answer questions you may have about cookies and the new law.