The impact of the new ICO’s UK/EU Cookie Law

As of 26th May 2011 the ICO have brought in to affect new laws that require website’s in the UK and EU to not store cookies on a user’s computer without first asking permission.

What are cookies?

Cookies are small bits of information that the website has stored on your computer, it allows the website to track your interactions with the website.

Do we need cookies?

Yes, sites which require you to log in such as facebook, twitter, banks etc.. need to track who you are. Once you log in this (among a few other bits such as user-agent and IP address) is how they know who you are.

Some problems

The biggest affect, I believe, will be with third party analytics software (Google Analytics being the biggest) which rely heavily on cookies. Look at this example of how analytics on ICO’s own website were affected http://www.flickr.com/photos/vickyb/5859873960/in/photostream

Analytics will not be the only area affected. Affiliate networks are also going to be affected, when you visit a site using an affiliate link found on quido.com or similar sites, the end site stores a cookie on your computer to track where you came from - these end sites will no longer be able to track your purchase meaning quido can't get the referral fee and then you can't get the cashback.

The law

However, I believe this new law is going to unenforceable! The number of sites out there that are knowingly/unknowingly storing cookies is in the millions and these sites won’t be updated - so I don’t feel that its going to be down to the web developers and site owners to deal with, it will come down to the browsers.

What can browsers do?

The browsers can simply pop up a confirmation box when a user first visits a website where cookies are trying to download and ask if they give permission for these cookies to be downloaded and if they don’t, a message could explain that "your experience on the site may be affected (unable to log in, post messages etc..)". This could even be a custom message that the developer puts in the page’s meta tag.

The browser Google Chrome will probably ask it's users if its ok to allow Google Analytics to install cookies - meaning the stats will continue to work when using Chrome, Mozilla Firefox will probably help out Google, but I doubt Mircosoft's Internet Explorer will help out. Of course Microsoft have their own ad network and probably also use cookies - so maybe the browsers will all come together to fix these issues together, I doubt it though.

We’ve gone this many years having cookies automatically downloaded without any real problems and so I think its a load of nonsense.

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