Your website, cookies and the law

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has recently released new guidelines for Cookie Compliance which affects UK website owners and is based on a new EU directive.  I wonder how many of us even know if cookies are used on our website(s)!

What does the law say?

Some of the points within the guidelines will mean as website owners, you will need to make changes to your website, to avoid the risk of prosecution.

I won’t go though all the guidelines here, you may well nod off, but the main point is that the responsibility for educating users about cookies and how they are used on your website has been devolved to you, the site owner. This will include informing users about your and 3rd party cookies should your site be using them (e.g. Google Analytics).

This legislation is to be enforced from May 2012.  It is actually a legal requirement already but we are in a grace period.

Ashley Freidlein from Econsultancy summarises some key points in his article Cookie Compliance or you can read the full guidelines from the ICO here who you will see ask for cookie approval already.

What is a cookie?

A cookie is a small text file that a website may put onto the visitor’s computer to “mark” that visitor.  The website may want to mark the visitor for a variety of reasons.  Examples may be to track a user’s basket as they shop or a retain a user’s website preferences.

How are other people complying with the legislation?

For an example of compliance, you can look at the Information Commissioner’s Office website.  At the top of the page you will see the Cookie notice that they have constructed and installed.

How do you know if your site uses cookies?

It is not immediately obvious if a website uses cookies to work effectively. Cookies are very frequently used for a variety of situations including, but not limited to, remembering a log-in password and managing a shopping basket. I would recommend carrying out a cookie audit to answer this question.

What should you do now?

To get on the right side of the law, you should find out what cookies are being used on your website by carrying out an audit.  We can do that for you – I would estimate an hour’s work. Once you know what cookies are on the site (if any), we can help you formulate a plan for informing the user of their purpose and possibly allowing the user to opt out. If there are no cookies on your website, we will not charge for the audit!

If you’re still confused about cookies, please call me for a nice explanation!  If you would like to request an audit, please let me know.

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Nigel White
My career has given me insights into large and small businesses across many sectors. Academically, I have a MA (Strategic Marketing) and use this understanding to provide consultancy and advice to all clients I work with. Very high on my agenda: needs analysis, service, and quality.