The Cookie Law: What is it and what do you need to do?

The Cookie Law started as an EU Directive in 2011. It was designed to protect a user’s online privacy by requiring websites to provide them with the option to refuse the use of cookies. So, if you’re in Europe or the UK, your website is probably breaking the law right now…

A cookie is a really common technology for remembering who you are between web pages. They allow things like remembering preferences, tracking visitors, and allowing ads to remember who you are and target stuff at you. Almost every website uses cookies and has done for years, but the Cookie Law requires websites to ask their visitors for permission to use cookies.


What does the Cookie Law say?

The law does allow an exception for some strictly necessary cookies. It doesn’t allow cookies for measuring visitors to your website or advertising. If you haven’t noticed most stuff on the internet is free. And most of that is paid for by targeted ads.

The law is meant to help protect people’s privacy, but it comes over pretty heavy-handed. It’s like banning all music to prevent another Justin Bieber album.

So what happened back in 2009? The EU issued a directive banning the use of cookies without prior consent. A directive isn’t a law, but it forces the member states to create their own laws. These are due by May 2011. Only three of the 27 countries met the deadline; Denmark, Estonia, and the UK… which only sort of half met it.

The UK realized no one was ready and on the day that the law came out, said they wouldn’t prosecute anyone for another year, but it is still the law and anyone in the EU will eventually have to meet it.


What should we do?

There are only three things websites can do:

  1. You can ignore the law,
  2. You can stop using cookies
  3. You can adapt to ask for permission.

If you ignore the law, chances are you won’t get sued at first. It’s not sound legal advice, but it’s kind of true. We expect most people will try to ignore the law as long as possible.

You could stop using cookies. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because most web technology uses cookies everywhere. So even if you want to you probably can’t turn them off easily… but why would you want to? Or you could start asking for permission. If you want to keep on using cookies you’re going to have to start at least notifying visitors that you are using cookies and that means getting in people’s way.

One option is a pop-up, but generally, the better option is an accordion that slides down from the top of the screen or up from the bottom.


Don’t Panic!

In conclusion, the law is here and it probably won’t kill you… yet.  Remember at its core, the directive states that all businesses in the EU – as well as any international companies that serve EU customers online – need to implement cookie consents.

However, in practice, each member country is free to implement the law with different requirements. Generally speaking, there are two important criteria your EU cookie consent needs to meet to be legal:

  1. Inform users of what cookies you use and what their purpose is.
  2. Offer users to opt in or out of using cookies on your site.

Pretty straightforward, right? Now let’s crack on with some marketing.



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