Last year UK websites were given one year to comply with new EU cookie laws. The deadline of 26th May 2012 is now closing in, meaning UK companies need to bring their websites into line with the law this month if they haven’t already. This is something that has caused a lot of confusion and has been the topic of many debates within the industry.
What are cookies?
First of all, it’s important to understand what cookies are. They are not computer programmes, they are simply a way of websites storing information and in many cases are vital to the functionality of a website. Cookies are used on almost all websites as they are used to enable many important features.
There are many different types of cookies, for example a cookie vital to a website’s functionality could be one used within an ecommerce system to store information on products the customer has put into their cart. Others may be used to enhance the user’s experience storing information on a change they’ve made to the website, such as the font size or color scheme. Others are used to visitor usage on the website, a common tactic to gain information for search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing campaigns.
Ever noticed an advert for a product you’ve previously looked at? This isn’t magic, it’s cookies being used again! Information stored in cookies on other websites you’ve visited is sometimes used to populate ad space with product promotions that are likely to be of interest to you, a powerful marketing tool.
So what is the new law?
As we’ve seen, some cookies are necessary for a website to work, others to improve the user experience or collect data, and some are used to insert advertisements, which may be considered an annoyance to some users.
The new law means that websites must request the users permission before using cookies which are not considered necessary for a website to function. Although there are no official guidelines on which types of cookies are ‘necessary’, we believe this includes cookies such as those used within ecommerce websites to store information on what’s in your cart. The new law is an update to the 2003 Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 that you can find at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2003/2426/contents/made.
Although cookies can be an annoyance, they’re also a vital part of the Internet, aiding functionality that is often integral to how a website works. Perceived breaches of privacy are what the new cookie law is trying to address.
What are the consequences?
This new law would mean websites who are using cookies that are not considered vital to the website running without first gaining the user’s prior consent could face a fine of up to £500,000.
So you’re probably wondering who exactly is responsible for what? Perhaps you are using analysis software such as Google Analytics to gain information for an SEO campaign or using Facebook to power functionality on your website – both of these are examples where cookies maybe used by a third party. According to the new law, the website owner is now responsible for the cookies on their website even if they are from a third party source such as Google Analytics, Facebook or Twitter.
Make sure you’re within the law!
Websites are taking different approaches to the new law, with examples including an accordion style drop down or popup window asking the user to agree to the usage of cookies to enhance their experience, unless they change the settings and decide to opt out. BT’s approach to this seems to be popular as one of the least intrusive ways of addressing the law change. This approach displays a message for a small amount of time before disappearing, leaving an option in the footer for the user to amend their privacy settings at a later point.
Some open source platforms such as WordPress have already seen developers helping by creating plugins to aid the process; you can find more information on these by searching the WordPress plugin directory.
For more information on the EU cookie law and what you need to be doing, please don’t hesitate to contact a member of our web development team.
How will this affect marketing?