New ‘Cookie’ law finally comes into effect in UK

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A screen grab of the BBC News website with a cookies notice on top. European laws that define what details sites can record in text files called cookies come into force on 26 May. Photo - Moign Khawaja/ArabianGazette.com

Websites in the UK are now expected to be in breach of law that dictate what they can log about visitors. The new cookie law will be enforced on all British websites which will define what details sites can record in text files.

The law is being enforced by UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office which is being directed by Brussels’ revised ePiracy Directive and will affect those websites that are within EU. The commissioner’s office said it would offer help to non-compliant sites but take legal action in case of a failure to comply.

Government has already made the decision to free web owners from all the burden of complying with the directive by deferring policing the law for one year. The ICO will also penalise web operators who are found to be violating the rules. However, the data protection watchdog has also mentioned that it will take a gentle approach towards non-compliance.

“We’ve been saying that we expect organisations to be on the path to compliance, which means that UK websites must provide visitors with sufficient information to make decision on whether they are happy for a cookie to be placed on their device and obtain consent before placing a cookie,” Dave Evans, ICO group manager, said.

Cookies are used to customise what repeat visitors see on the site and by advertisers to tracks users online.

Plans taken into consideration

The ICO has dished out some advice to website owners about using cookies and has said the website must get informed consent from users before they record any detailed information in the cookies they store on visitors’ computer.

Websites that have been taken into consideration for this new law have to add a pop-up box that would explain the changes. Once the visitors visit the site then they will be asked to click to the consent to having information recorded and told what will happen if they refuse to do it.

The advice has now been updated on almost all of the UK websites. Stephen Groom, law firm Osborne Clark’s head of marketing, said: “This is striking shift. Previously ICO said that implied consent would be unlikely to work. Now it says that implied consent is a valid form of consent.”

Meanwhile, British firms had 12 months in their hand for the change and ICO says it spent much of its time reminding business about the obligations that they will be facing during these months.

Moreover, ICO has also updated its policy allowing organisations using implied consent. By this change users would not have to make any explicit changes. In fact, their continued use of the site would be considered as they are happy for gathering information.

However, according to Dave Evans, the current cookies practice would take time in busy sites because huge number of cookie files they issue to monitor and update. But the association is planning to use formal undertaking and enforcement notice so that the sites can take early actions.

“Those are setting out the steps we think they need to take in order to become compliant and when we except them to be taking those steps. If they comply with one of those notices or sign one of those undertakings they are committing to doing this properly and that’s the main point,” Evans said.

Web owners against the proposal

A survey published by digital marketing firm, Eco-consultancy, found a month ago that 82% of 700 marketers believe the new cookies law would affect online development. Many even feel that it could also kill online sales.

Michael Ross, founder of figleaves.com, an online retailer, commented: “The EU cookie law is simply bad law and restraint to trade online at a time when a business needs all the help it can get. Trading online without using cookies for analytics or various types of marketing tracking is analogous to asking a retailer to trade blindfolded. It’s simply not possible.”

Moreover, many UK websites had also complained that the law would put into disadvantage against European sites. Data privacy analysts at Taylor Wessing, Vinod Bange said: “Given that the rest of mainland Europe is yet to take this directive seriously, it is a shame that UK PIc’s online company is being jeopardised. If the new cookie law were fully enforced by the ICO, it could make Europe and the UK specifically a less attractive place to do business and less competitive globally.”

But Stephen Groom explains that this new law is more “business-friendly” and would have been good to have had earlier visibility of the dramatic change.

Meanwhile, ICO has issued guidance for public that explains what cookies are, how to change cookie settings and how to complain if worried about site policy.

Sources: BBC News, The Guardian

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