UK Web Owners Face Cookie Crunch

Legal

There are on average 14 tracking tools per webpage on the UK’s most popular sites, according to a recent study.  Privacy solutions provider Truste suggests that means a user typically encounters up to 140 cookies and other trackers while browsing a single site.

The research was published less than 40 days before strict rules come into effect governing cookie use.  The study was carried out in March and covered the UK’s 50 most visited organisations.  The firm said that 68% of the trackers analysed belonged to third-parties, usually advertisers, rather than the site’s owner.

“The high level of third-party tracking that is taking place is certainly an area of question and scrutiny,” said Dave Deasy, Truste’s vice president of marketing.  “It’s not illegal to do the tracking – the question is whether you are giving consumers enough awareness that it is happening and what you are doing with the data.”

Deadline

On 26 May the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) imposes an EU directive designed to protect internet users’ privacy.

The law says that sites must provide “clear and comprehensive” information about the use of cookies – small files which allow a site to recognise a visitor’s device.

It says website managers must:

  • Tell people that the cookies are there
  • Explain what the cookies are doing
  • Obtain visitors’ consent to store a cookie on their device

“The information needs to be upfront – without information people can’t give consent,” said the ICO’s principal policy adviser for technology, Simon Rice.

The ICO says the rules cover cookies used to provide information to advertisers, count the number of unique visitors to a page and recognise when a user has returned to a site to adjust the content that is subsequently displayed.

However, it says exceptions are likely to be made if the cookie is only being used to ensure a page loads quickly by distributing the workload over several servers, or is employed to track a user as they add goods to a shopping basket.

Many sites have yet to add a feature asking for users’ consent.

95% of 55 major UK-based organisations surveyed on behalf of KPMG were still not compliant with the cookie law at the end of last month, the accountancy firm reported.

Truste acknowledges that the vast majority of those who took part in its study had published a privacy policy – but adds that only 16% had a summary section that was “easily digestible”, and 80% did not disclose how long data about visitors was retained.

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Published by Craig Wilson

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