Crumbs! Are we Still Talking about Cookies?

Written by Karl Binder on February 1, 2017

Mmm cookies!

When you sweet-toothed people have finished salivating over the thought of what is a rich man’s biscuit, you might want to take some time to learn about the cookies found on the internet’s webpages.

What’s a cookie?

Cookies are a form of memory storage used by web pages and contain personal information supplied by you. When visiting a page, often there’ll be a pop up on the screen asking for you to accept cookies. You may then also have to fill out a form, providing various pieces of info about yourself such as name, email address, interests etc. These details are then baked (if you like) into a cookie and sent to your web browser for any future use of the webpage.

The EU law on cookies and data protection

Cookies are clearly very important then, and there’s even EU laws associated with them. In May 2011, under an EU directive, the cookie law was first established. However, a one year grace period from the ICO (International Commissioner’s Office) meant that the law didn’t come into effect for most websites until 2012.

The law stated that any business running a web page must supply information about the cookies they are using, and then the person using that web page can choose to allow the cookies to take their information or not. Whereas previously, data privacy was almost non-existent, but thanks to the law change, people’s personal data is now better protected.

When the cookie law was first introduced, it was seen in a more negative than positive light, with users pointing to the annoying pop-ups and banners marring their browsing experience. One tool which has been developed over the past few years is Optanon, part of a webpage’s content management system, and it allows users to automatically comply with the cookie law without it being a hindrance.

Another tool is Do Not Track, which is located in your internet browser settings, and can be switched on to stop all interference across the web. Be aware though, many websites do not honour it. This leads to questions on the grey areas and misconceptions found within the cookie laws.

What does it mean for British businesses?

The first question is:, is the EU supposed to police the entire internet and make sure that any person living in an EU country is provided with a warning about cookies on any page they are viewing? It could be argued that it is their right as an EU citizen. In theory, any non-EU based website that targets EU based users must comply with the cookie law.

There’s also a strangely specific rule which commands UK businesses aimed at French audiences must follow the French cookie law, which differs to the UK one inasmuch as it extends to highlighting data which isn’t even private, and it must explain in simple terms how and why the cookies will take the data they do. The UK is much more relaxed about cookies it seems, with a box asking you to accept or not accept cookies. Although the threat of fines has been touted before, it’s unlikely there would be a major fine in the UK.

The one glaring issue the UK now has regarding any EU laws is: what will happen following on from Brexit? If the law is already deemed as soft, once we have left the EU (as it appears we are), will this finally kick the cookie law into touch? It has been claimed by several critics of the cookie law that the ICO has no real intentions of enforcing it, and they only originally implemented it to conform with the EU directive.

There’s every chance the law will become diluted, with not many people seeming to care anymore. At a time when cookies will most likely continue to take some form of data whether you want it to or not, at least the constant pop ups may stop.

If you need more information on the cookie law or would like help on making sure your website is compliant, get in touch. We’re more than happy to help.