New EU cookie laws

You may have seen reports in the press recently regarding a new piece of EU Legislation, which is due to come into force on May 26th 2011.

This legislation is related to a change in the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations and is being introduced to limit the way in which websites collect data about their visitors.  In particular, the amended legislation concentrates very much on the use of cookies.

What are cookies and why are they used?

A cookie is a small text file stored by a web site on your computer to keep track of information about your browsing and activity on that site. There are lots of examples of how this information might be used but some of the most common ways that you’ll see them used on sites are as follows:

  • Keeping track of what’s in a shopping basket when buying anything online
  • To allow a site to remember who you are next time you visit
  • Tracking user’s browsing habits on a particular site to understand what they view.

What’s changing?

As it stands, when using cookies, the rule is that you have to tell users how your site uses cookies and inform them of the options available for opting out. Many websites currently do this by putting information about cookies in a privacy policy.
The changes, which have only been published this week, advise that from May 26th, cookies can only be placed on machines where the user or subscriber has explicitly given their consent.
 
This change has spawned a large amount of debate and further guidelines and advice are still expected from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)


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