The UK Cookie Legislation will be enforced from 26th May 2012.
The EU legislation on the use of cookie forces websites to request permission from their web visitors before cookies can be used. Previously, website visitors could ‘opt out’ of cookie use, now they must ‘opt in’ and it is the site-owners responsibility to ask them to do so.
A Cookie is a text file which a website places onto a visitors’ computer in order to store information, mainly specific to that visitor. Often this is to make the site easier to use , particularly if the visitor returns. An example would be if you allow visitors to choose the size of the text on your web pages to make it comfortable for them to read. Your website will drop a cookie onto their computer to allow your site to remember their text preference so they do not have to choose every time they come back to the site.
You can see simple video explanation here of how government websites use them.
On an ecommerce website you might drop cookies to allow visitors (and you the seller) to be able to see their purchase history, and their browse history so they can see items that they have already viewed as they have looked through the site.
Some cookies are essential to the working of a website. For example, the only way to remember what is in your shopping cart as you move through an E-commerce website is to drop cookies.
If you’re using analytics software such Google Analytics then your site will be using cookies to track the page visits.
Does the Cookie Law affect me?
If you’re based in the EU, this law affects you.
The law relates to the use of ‘non essential’ cookies. All websites in the EU are now required to ask a visitor’s permission before placing non-essential cookies on their machine. Cookies which are deemed not “strictly necessary for a service requested by a user” such as visitor tracking codes, advertising and most Google Analytics tools are now illegal under the EU Cookie Law unless the visitor has accepted their use.
Cookies that are necessary for the working of the website (Eg: Cookies used to remember which items you have placed in your online eCommerce shopping cart, or whether you’re logged in to a website or not) are allowed without the need to opt in.
You should now:
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) suggest using pop-ups or similar techniques such as message bars or a header bar to ask your website visitors for permission.
You may see an example of this kind of feature on our website. We only use 3 cookies: cookies placed by Google Analytics, one placed by our contact form to verify that it is being completed by a real person and a cookie which is set if a visitor agrees to accept these cookies! See an example of a Cookie Compliance pop-up.
If you fail to implement the required changes on your website then there is a potential fine of up to £500,000 in the UK if a breach of the law has caused “substantial damage or substantial distress”.
Whilst like any technology, cookies can be used for good as well as ill, the directive could make the web less accessible for all, unless the ICO introduce more flexibility. The thinking behind it is good, but the method of implementation could make visiting websites tiresome if a choice has to be made for every new site visited.
Large numbers of websites have not made any attempt to comply with the directive as yet and it will be interesting to see how and if this will be enforced.
You can find more information on The Information Commissioner’s Office website: http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/privacy_and_electronic_communications/the_guide/cookies.aspx
Read the UK’s Information Commissioners Office (ICO) guidance document - read here
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