New EU rules will change the way the cookie crumbles

The European Union’s influence extends from metric measurements to straight cucumbers. However cucumbers are now not enough for the EU and they have moved onto something else, cookies.

Now to most of my dear readers cookies are American super-sized biscuits which can be particularly delicious if they have the words oatmeal and raisin associated with them.

In the web world however a cookie is a small file made up of letters and numbers that does quite a clever thing. What it does is remember things, things that range from a users preferences or what they have put in a shopping basket.

If you have ever been on a website looking at a product and then you seem to see ads for that product follow you no matter what sites you then go on, that’s a cookie.

The fact that you probably have no idea that these are being dropped onto your computer is why the EU has stepped in.

On May 25th the law regarding storing personal information by web owners changed. Before then all you had to do was tell people that you may use cookies and how you use them and that they could ‘opt out’ if they wanted.

Check 99% of websites terms and conditions and you will see a couple of paragraphs about this. The change however means that a user must “have given his or her consent” i.e. you must be asked.

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Only one form of cookie is exempt, those which means that when you click to buy or add to basket the computer knows what you have done.

For everything else you will need explicit consent which could mean a million pop up boxes asking you to click them.

The EU and the UK government through the Information Commissioners Office, ICO, are already talking to makers of web browsers to see if there is a technical solution.

However this will not be in place in time. So although the law has changed, web owners have already been given a year’s extension to work out how to comply.

As a web owner you could try just putting your head in the sand but they are giving a year’s extension and a lot of guidance and if you don’t follow it they can fine you up to �500k.

The European web world, including yours truly, is currently scratching their collective heads on how to do this on their own sites.

Despite the time extension the ICO have said web owners must have a process to change. So if you have a website you might want to check out the ICO’s website at www.ico.gov.uk for their advice.

If you use an agency to run your site make sure you talk to them about whether this affects you at all, in any shape or form. If you run it yourself create a plan, audit your site to see if you use any cookies, list what they do and if they are covered by the law changes, and think how you might get consent for them.

There is lots of information out there and over the next year there will be lots more and good examples to follow. So if you think this may apply to you the clock is ticking.

- Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant Regional

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