There are now only six months (162 days) left until 25th May 2012 to ensure that if your website asks for cookies there is an opt-in policy for your site visitors to accept any cookies your website places on their computers.

UK is one of only 5 countries requiring website owners to conform to this EU Directive – the others are Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden. Many other countries have also passed the legislation for the ‘cookie law’ (in particular, Article 5(3) of the e-privacy directive) but are not enforcing opt-in.

The article states:

‘3. Member States shall ensure that the storing of infor­mation, or the gaining of access to information already stored, in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user is only allowed on condition that the subscriber or user con­cerned has given his or her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information, in accordance
with Directive 95/46/EC, inter alia, about the purposes of the processing. This shall not prevent any technical storage or access for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications net­work, or as strictly necessary in order for the provider of an information society service explicitly requested by the sub­scriber or user to provide the service.’;

It is a LEGAL requirement for all sites using cookies to understand the full reach of the law and ensure their sites are compliant. The Information Commissioner has said this week that websites must try harder, and has published updated guidance on how to comply. Depending on the amount of information requested, and the level of ‘tracking’ that a cookie may seek from a user’s activities, the penalty for non-compliance could be severe – up to £500,000 for a serious breach.

There is a whole host of information about making your website and collection of data compliant with the new law before May on sites such as Cookielaw.org. This website includes a DIY Cookie Audit as well as Cookie Toolkit to help you resolve any issues that your website may face under the new law. There are also ebooks, FAQs, and much more information, online.

You will need to check every page that your visitors will visit, and try out all functionality. If your company has a large website, this may take a few people to ensure a full check has been carried out. It also gives you an ideal opportunity to check that all your forms etc are functioning as you would expect them to. Unless some kind visitor lets you know that part of your website is malfunctioning, you may not realise unless you have Objectives and Goals set up in Analytics and notice a sudden drop-off of completions of goals.

The use of cookies is sensitive – for some privacy advocates, cookies are an intrusion. For companies looking to gather additional marketing information, they are simply a tool to do a job. For instance, Google, Amazon, Facebook and most online ad agencies and brokers use cookies to target and push information to users based on the tracking information gathered.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on about cookies, as a website owner you will need to comply with the law so check out the Cookie Law on the Information Commissioner’s website today.

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology