In May of last year, a new EU regulation came into force which specified that websites must ask their visitors for permission before storing pieces of information called cookies on their computers.
What are Cookies?
Cookies are small text files that web browsers can save on a user’s computer. They’re typically used to identify a particular visitor in order to provide them with a more-personalised experience, and are a crucial part of many of website functions which we take for granted.
For example, it’s usually cookies which allow an online shop to remember the items that you have in your shopping cart. They’re also used to remember you on a website so that you don't have to login again every time you visit, or to provide valuable usage statistics and information to website owners.
What the EU Cookie Law Says
In short, the new rules require websites to get permission from visitors before placing any cookies on their computer. It states that permission must be informed and overt, which means you have to ask your visitors outright if you can put cookies on their computer, and explain clearly what the cookies are used for. You can’t just bury the information in your website’s terms and conditions and leave it at that.
The only exceptions to this rule are cookies deemed essential to providing functions visitors have asked for. But you can’t rely on this to cover many of your cookies, and it’s certainly not likely to cover cookies for analytics purposes, which is one of the most common uses of cookies – particularly for smaller websites. You can download the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guidance on the rules here.
Implementing the EU Cookie Law
Although the EU cookie law came in last year, the ICO decided to give websites a year to implement the rules. The deadline was 26 May 2012, after which, websites that don’t comply with the law could be fined up to £500,000.Even with the May deadline fast approaching, hardly any websites have done anything obvious to comply with the cookie law. As you’d expect, the ICO website has an opt-in message at the top of every page. And BT has begun displaying a message to explain a bit more about its cookies, although it’s debatable whether this is a proper opt-in.
Although there's still a fair amount of uncertainty around the new law, it’s fair to say that doing nothing is not a good option. In the long-term, people’s attitudes and understanding of cookies may change, and web browsers may include settings to help provide a consistent opt-in. But for now the onus of complying with the law falls very much on individual website operators.It’s looking very unlikely that many websites will have implemented a cookie opt-in by 26 May. But the ICO – which is responsible for enforcing the rules – has suggested that the most important thing is to take steps in the right direction. If you can show you’re moving towards full compliance then you’re unlikely to be targeted.
As a bare minimum, it’s important to have an understanding of what cookies your website uses and plan how you might implement an opt-in.
How We Can Help?
We are able to make your existing website compliant with the EU cookie law for a relatively small cost, ensuring that you meet the new regulations and don't have to worry about the possibility of receiving a hefty fine from the ICO for non-compliance.
We do this using a tried-and-tested system that requests visitor permission in a tidy and unobtrusive way, either site-wide or just on necessary pages. Messages can be styled to integrate cleanly with your site, helping enforce user confidence and maintaining a seamless user experience for your visitors.
If you'd like to speak to one of our experienced web team about how we can help make your site compliant, then please don't hesitate to give us a call today on 01252 376116, or drop us a mail on firstname.lastname@example.org.