EU Cookie Law


There are some alarming and ill thought out amendments to the EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (PECD). This directive is due to come into force on May 29th 2011, and if websites are forced to comply with the currently drafted wording then there will be major implications for websites and huge inconvenience for anyone making purchases, reservations or repeatedly viewing the same website.

The Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive amendments state that website owners must ask for consent from users before storing cookies on their computers.

A cookie is a small file that the website places on your hard drive for identification purposes. These files may be used for site registration and customisation the next time you visit us, and they make navigating the website more user-friendly.

A cookie is a piece of data that a website can send to your browser, which may then be stored on your computer as an anonymous tag that identifies your computer but not you. You should note that cookies cannot read data off of your hard drive. Your web browser may allow you to be notified when you are receiving a cookie, giving you the choice to accept it or not. By not accepting cookies, some pages may not fully function and you may find it harder to access certain information from the website.

The new Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive applies to all cookie-like storage technologies, and includes Flash Locally Shared Objects (LSO), Silverlight or HTML 5 local storage.

There is an exception, but only when the cookie is "strictly necessary" for the service requested by the user to function. This includes enabling orders in a shop to be remembered, but not user preferences. There are some grey areas where preferences might be essential for some functionality or some users, and this applies particularly to some accessibility technology.

Various lobbying groups are working with major browser companies to determine if the user has given consent through the browser's settings. We hope this gets done before the May 26th deadline. But the difficulty will be the many Government departments still running on old IE6 browsers. Other organisations working on modern browsers will have less of an issue.

If browsers do not get modified, and presumably for older non supported browsers (IE6) the advice is to rely on web pop-ups. But this creates as many issues as it solves as most of these techniques are non accessible.

The advice in changing the terms and conditions is unclear. The advice is that users will need to be informed about the modifications and prompted to accept them again. At the moment if you simply view a website then it is not normal to have clicked to say yes first. So this is unclear in meaning.

But the biggest challenge to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive is complying with cookies set by third-party content providers such as Google or Yahoo or other advertising or tracking providers. This is a real threat to advertising as it will reduce all the data available for optimising campaigns.


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