Getting caught in the cookie jar…? What the new EU ruling means for ePages

by Natalia Radcliffe-Brine, 10.05.12



Cyber law and legislation for online shops and e-commerceIn May 2011, a new EU ‘cookie’ law designed to protect consumer privacy came into effect. A year later, the deadline is coming up for UK businesses to comply with the regulations. There’s a lot of speculation in the media about what the new law will mean for businesses which currently use cookies – so to put your mind at ease, we want to explain how it affects merchants using ePages’ eCommerce software.

Note: as yet, many national governments within the EU have not set deadlines for compliance. Whilst this article is relevant to all EU businesses, it’s those operating in the UK that need to ensure imminent compliance by May 26th 2012.

 

What is a cookie?

Just in case you’re wondering what biscuits have to do with software, we thought we’d explain what cookies are in the context of the internet!

Cookies are pieces of data which are stored by websites. Most websites use cookies. They can have different uses; analytics (tracking user behaviour), page personalisation (recalling user preferences), delivering targeted advertising (through tracking website movement) and they are used to manage shopping carts in eCommerce. It’s the final use that concerns ePages merchants.

 

What are the new cookie regulations?

Put very simply, the crux of the law is that users must opt-in to the use of cookies on your website.

So: all websites must gain permission from their visitors before proceeding to store or share information about that user. It also requires the business to ensure that the user understands the purpose of the data storage and how it is accessed.This is to protect the privacy of the internet user, and stop their data being stored and shared against their knowledge.The final date for compliance in the UK is the 26th May 2012.

 

Cookies in your cart

Your eShop uses cookies in its shopping cart. Why? So that your site can remember what the consumer has chosen to purchase on previous pages. These cookies are set temporarily, and are not saved long term. Without these cookies, people wouldn’t be able to buy products from your online business. There is also a cookie that is set which shows internet users their ‘last viewed’ product. However, there’s no need to worry. The cookies in your ePages shopping cart are legal, and you won’t be penalised for their presence.

 

What makes your ePages cookies exceptional?

The new law makes exceptions for situations ‘where such storage or access is strictly necessary for the provision of an information society service requested by the subscriber or user’ (p. 9 ‘Guidance on the rules on use of cookies and similar technologies’, ICO Dec 2011).

In the case of online shopping, the user has requested the service to be carried out by your eShop – and it is necessary to store the data in the shopping cart in order to carry out the purchase they desire. Therefore, the use of cookies in this manner is compliant with the law; they are ‘essential’ cookies.

The ICO has actually gone further. The have stated that ‘a cookie used to remember the goods a user wishes to buy when they proceed to the checkout or add goods to their shopping basket’ is an exceptional activity (p.10 ‘Guidance on the rules on use of cookies and similar technologies’, ICO Dec 2011).

So, your shopping cart and your ‘last viewed’ cookies are non-punishable because they are an essential part of the online shopping process. Phew.

 

… What about other cookies?

Applications external to your ePages software (like Facebook or Google Analytics) will use cookies. Many of them will ask users to ‘opt-in’ to their use of cookies, and therefore be compliant with the new regulations.

However, you should check with these companies to ensure that their applications are within the boundaries of the law to make sure that you are not inadvertently breaking the law yourself by using their services in your eShop.

 

So are cookies bad for me?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question!

Some internet users prefer their web browsing experience to be personalised (for example being shown other items which might interest them based on their browsing history, or having websites remember their personal log-in data). These internet users might not object to their data being stored for these purposes.

Other internet users may be wary of spam, which can be the result of so-called ‘spiders’ crawling the web and finding their personal details from cookies. They may also object to any personal data being stored on the internet, whatever its purpose.

For anyone wanting to analyse visitor movement around their website, cookies are very useful – as analytics results can be used to optimise their site accordingly.

So: opinion is divided.

 

How will the law be enforced?

As yet, the answer to this question is unclear. Enforcement of this law is no mean feat, as the majority of websites all over the world use many cookies. So! Rest easy in the knowledge that your ePages shopping cart legally contains cookies. Consider external applications you use in your eShop, and contact them if you are unsure whether their use of cookies is compliant.

And if all this talk of cookies is making you as hungry as us, why not break into a pack of the proper stuff. Nom nom nom.

If you’re looking for more detailed information on this topic, visit the Information Commissioner’s Office – www.ico.gov.uk

About the author


Natalia Radcliffe-Brine studied Political Science at the University of Bristol, whilst working part-time for a public relations company and an independent record label. Upon completing her studies, she worked in sales and marketing for a top IT headhunting agency in UK. In May 2011 she moved into the world of eCommerce with ePages, as a Channel Marketing Manager based in the London office.

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Comments


  1. 20.05.2012
    Wolf Software

    We have created a complete suite of solutions both free and commercial for people who want to gain compliance via an active consent mechanism.

    http://demos.dev.wolf-software.com

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