Cookies are one of the building blocks of most websites. These small text files on users computers allow websites to store all kinds of information. Cookies allow websites to remember users login details, shopping cart content and the current ‘state’ of a webpage. They are also used to produce targeted advertising based on users behaviour and power stats packages such as Google Analytics.
It is this latter group and associated privacy issues that have encouraged the European Union to introduce its current legislation. The EU is worried that cookies can be used for intrusive behavioural advertising.
No need to panic
The legislation was passed some time ago but the current panic is because of an impending May 25th deadline. However as the BBC article points out…
This is because at the moment the legislation is still vaguely defined. Guidelines about how to conform are still being drawn up.
We are still a long way from the nightmare scenario painted by some of terms and conditions being presented before being able to access a website.
The part of the legislation that is causing the most panic refers to users providing “explicit consent”. Unfortunately what explicit consent means is open to interpretation.
For example, advertisers are arguing that web browsers allow users to disable cookies so if they choose not to disable them they are providing consent. Unsurprisingly privacy advocates dispute this.
What should you do?
So with the legislation still open to interpretation and the May 25th deadline looming, what should you do if you run a website? Personally, I recommend following the advice found at outlaw.com. They write…
- include a link in your policy to www.aboutcookies.org so that your visitors can access instructions on deleting and controlling cookies.
No doubt the BBC news story will lead to a rash of email spam claiming our sites break EU regulations (and wanting us to pay for it to be fixed) in much the same way we saw over accessibility. Don’t be taken in. You will need to make changes to your site but it is extremely unlikely this will be the doom days scenario some claim.