What is the new EU cookie law and what does it mean for my website?

As of the 26th May, a new law will come into effect which will mean that all UK websites should gain the consent of visitors to serve them with web cookies.

What does this mean?

Well, to the general public, not a lot, as many people don’t even know what a cookie is and if they’re aware of them, they’re suspicious.  In fact, according to a recent consumer survey by Econsultancy, only 31% of consumers know what cookies are and what they’re for.  In addition, the same survey reveals that only 23% of consumers are happy for a site to set cookies when they visit.

So what are cookies then?

When you visit a website, assuming cookies are enabled on your browser, a simple text file will be saved onto your PC.  This contains information about which site you visited and what you did whilst you were there.  Information such as what was in your shopping cart on an ecommerce site, or your log-in details to use next time.  The idea of a cookie – which is what this text file is – is to enable sites to improve your user experience.  Functions such as autofilling a form so you don’t have to do it again, suggesting items for you to buy based on what you’ve bought in the past (e.g. Amazon), or targeting advertising that you’re most likely to be interested in (e.g. Facebook advertising) are all possible because of cookies.  However, some people are uneasy about this type of information about them being stored. You can find more information on what cookies are (from a consumer point of view) on the ‘What Are Cookies’ website.

What does the new law say?

In basic terms, the new ‘Cookie Law’ says that by 26th May 2012, all websites in the UK must ask visitors for permission to collect information about them to maintain privacy.  Compliant sites will have some sort of opt-in feature that appears when they land on the site, such as a pop-up or a banner.  It should ideally explain what a cookie is, and that they can opt-in to them being enabled, if they aren’t already.  Visitors can also block a site from appearing in their search results. There are a few small exceptions in the law. One such exception allows e-commerce sites to place cookies on your computer without consent, but only to enable shopping cart functionality which would cease to function without cookies.

Does this apply to my site?

If your site uses cookies, then yes it does – and if you have Google Analytics set up, as most websites do, then you will most likely be serving cookies to your site visitors. You can check whether your site uses cookies using a number of tools such as TRUSTe’s website tracker and cookie audit or IECookiesView for Internet Explorer from Nirsoft.

What should I do now?

You can find some useful information on taking steps towards compliance and some examples of compliance in other articles by Econsultancy.  If you want to know more about the law and what you need to do to comply, or you’re not sure if your site uses cookies, you can always give us a call on 01952 462845 and we’ll guide you through the steps that you need to take. Don’t assume your web designer will sort this out for you automatically – as a website owner it is your responsibility to comply with the law.

What if I don’t want to comply?

The new law is almost universally unpopular among website owners, who worry that displaying a privacy warning on their website will scare visitors off, and who are extremely concerned at the prospect of losing a lot of their Google Analytics data – if a large percentage of users opt out of accepting your cookies, you will lose a lot of valuable visitor information. If you wish to make your views known on the Cookie Law, have a look at this video and consider signing the online petition.

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