Don’t Get Caught With Your Hand In The Cookie Jar – A Guide To The Cookie Law

cookie monsterYou’ve probably heard a lot about the new cookie law that is due to come in on May 26th 2012. But what exactly does it mean to you and what do you need to do as a website owner to comply with it and what might happen if you don’t?

In 2009 the EU who are responsible for a number of totally crazy directives that don’t seem to benefit anyone passed yet another ridiculous directive regarding cookies. A directive isn’t law but it forces member  states to create their own laws. All the member states were meant to do this by 2011 but this one is so ridiculous that only a couple have complied so there was a stay of execution. It is being brought in to try and protect peoples online privacy by ensuring that when someone visits a website they are aware of how that site collects information about them and allows them to choose whether it happens or not.

What Is A Cookie

Cookies can take a number of forms with the 2 main ones being session cookies and persistant cookies and 92% of websites use them. Session cookies are stored in a computers memory only during that browsing session. They allow the browser to remember details, for instance when you fill in a multi-page form it ensures that the information is carried from one page to another and any preferences that you set are retained. This information is automatically deleted when the browser is closed or is inactive for a certain amount of time. These are essential to our everyday browsing and are the basis of how functionality like shopping carts operate. They have a session ID  and aren’t personally identifiable, they don’t collect information from the users computer and aren’t really of concern regarding privacy.

Persistent or permanent cookies on the other hand are stored on your hard drive by a website and are not deleted when the browser is closed. When you visit a website your actions and preferences are recorded, packaged up into a cookie and then stored on your PC so that when you next visit that site the information can be retrieved and amongst other things they are used to analyse the behaviour of the individual on the website, pages visited, how long they spent on each page and how many times they revisited the site etc. They are usually configured to be retained for long periods of time and it is these cookies that are of concern when it comes to privacy.

Isn’t The Internet A Spooky Place

As you surf the web you may have come across a lot of spooky coincidences. You’re interested in buying a certain car for instance and go and have a look at it on a website. Then over the next few weeks you’ll see an ad for that car pop up all over the place. “Wow that’s spooky”, no it’s not that’s a well placed cookie! Google remarketing allows you to show ads to people who have visited your site across the whole of their display network, which comprises all of the sites where you can buy Google ads such as AdSense, DoubleClick Ad Exchange partners, YouTube, Google Finance, Gmail, Google Maps, and Blogger! An exceptionally powerful advertising medium as I’m sure you’ll agree and if you’ll like to learn more about Google Pay Per Click advertising then drop us a line and we can have a chat.

So What Does This Mean

Not all cookies are of concern but the 2 main areas are for tracking website statistics and for targeted ads. As a website owner you have the following options:

   1. Stop Using Cookies – this is just not practical. Tracking visitor statistics using a package such as Google Analytics is essential for improving your visitors experience on yourkeep calm and don't worry about the cookie law website and the value of your website to your business. It is a ‘win win’ situation and allows you to analyse which pages people are interested in and which they are not and constantly improve your content and asess whether your users are primarily on mobile, tablets, high resolution monitors etc and allow you to fine tune your website to benefit the user. We are just touching on the benefits of analytics to both you and your user and to do away with this information would cause internet development to totally stagnate. If you don’t have analytics on your site then ring us on 0843 289 0120 or email us and we can get it set up straight away.
   2. Ask For Permission – you could do this in a number of ways but they are all intrusive and annoying and guaranteed to put your visitors off your site. We have come a long way since the days of being bombarded by pop ups and do we really want to go down that route again? The ICO who are the office for data protection and freedom of information have a banner at the top of the site asking for your permission to use cookies before you enter the site and a link to another page which displays details of their cookies. But you will notice that even if you don’t tick the checkbox to give your permission you can still navigate through the site! This makes a complete farce of the whole thing – does that mean you can put it in tiny letters tucked away in the footer of your site? So all this leads me to the 3rd option.
   3. Keep Calm  And Carry On – not complying to the law could carry a maximum fine of £500,000 but it is unlikely this will ever be enforced and if it is it will be with a high profile site such as the BBC. I wouldn’t possibly dream of advising you to break the law but feel that most people including myself will ‘sit it out’ and see what happens. In my opinion cookies are an important aspect of the modern day internet that benefits us in so many ways and to be without them would leave us with nothing to dunk in our tea!