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Should your website display a cookie consent notice?

CookiesIn May 2011, a European Union (EU) Directive was adopted by all EU member countries to protect consumer privacy online. In the UK, the rules on cookies are covered by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. The Regulations were revised in 2011, and the ICO is responsible for enforcing these rules.

Requirements state:

  • Inform users if they are using browser cookies
  • Detail what data is gathered using cookies and how the data is used (sometimes in a privacy policy)
  • Gather user consent to the use of cookies

Browser cookies are small text files which are downloaded to your computer device when visiting particular websites. They are almost always harmless and serve to enhance the visitor experience. Here are some typical reasons for websites using cookies:

  • To remember who you are, so you don’t have to keep entering your account username or email address every time you visit a favourite website
  • To assist with the collection of data, for statistical purposes (e.g. with Google Analytics)
  • To store items in a ‘shopping cart/basket’ as you browse a website for more products to buy

Note that WordPress powered websites frequently use cookies for basic functionality reasons.

How to meet the requirements

Once you’ve identified that your website uses browser cookies, the most common way to inform users is to automatically display a small banner at the top or bottom of your website. This can offer a direct link to your privacy policy and a button allowing the visitor to consent to cookie usage. Selecting the button will usually prevent the banner from displaying in the future or for a predetermined time period.

Why are they called cookies?

There are several theories for where the name originates. We like the Hansel and Gretel Cookie theory which also makes it easier to understand what cookies do. In the famous fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel left a cookie trail behind (well actually, it was breadcrumbs) as they made their way through a dark forest; this way they could easily see where they had been, just as a browser cookie records a user’s activity on your website. Unfortunately, in the story, birds ate the crumbs up and they ended up lost anyway! Visit the Cookie Controller website for more information about cookies and the different theories behind the terminology.

If your website needs to comply with regulations on browser cookies, speak to your web designer about implementation.

Further information

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