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Simple Explanation Of The EU Cookie Law

We’ve had a lot of questions from clients and readers of our blog recently regarding the EU cookie law, what it means and how it affects webmasters. So to help anyone confused about what they need to do, we’ve put together a very simple explanation of the EU cookie law and how it affects your website.

As of the 26th May 2011, the European Union bought in a new law regarding the use of cookies on a website – a law known as the e-Privacy directive. As part of the directive, the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) gave webmasters 12 months to comply to the new law, meaning all website using stored cookies needed to be complying with the directive as of the 26th May 2012.

Firstly, let’s have a quick look at exactly what cookies are. Essentially, a cookie is a very small file that’s downloaded onto a computer or device when someone accesses certain websites. Once the cookie is downloaded, cookies are sent back to the original website everytime the user re-visits the site. They’re extremely useful for webmasters as they allow the website to recognise a user’s computer (or mobile device) and can be used to store information. They’re essential for the provision of numerous online services and are also helpful to the user, as they allow for things like remembered logins, the auto-filling of forms and geographical targeting, making website and service usage much quicker and easier.

Previously, these cookies were downloaded and used without prior consent of the user, or without their knowledge, allowing the websites to offer personalisation, memory and services to their users. What the e-Privacy directive has stated is that from the 26th May 2012, all websites that utilise cookies must make their users aware of the utilisation of cookies, and that the user must give their consent – whether that be implied or specified.

So how does this affect you? Basically, if you use cookies on your website then you need to tell all your users that they’re being utilised, and explain what they’re being used for. The user must then give consent to their usage or choose to disable them, giving the website visitor the choice over whether or not cookies are downloaded and used. You can do this via a number of different ways, but generally speaking the information should be on your homepage, allowing users to immediately be notified of the use of cookies.

In terms of gaining consent to the use of cookies, you can either give the user the option to disable them, or allow them to click a ‘consent’ button to allow cookies to be used – however you choose to do it, you must make sure that the visitor is informed of the use of cookies and has the option to disable them if they so wish.

Hopefully that clears things up a little for those of you who are confused, but if you have any questions or anything else to add, don’t hesitate to let us know via the comments below.


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