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Just weeks left before new rules on cookies come into force

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In a little over a month UK retailers will need to get shoppers’ consent before they opt them into accepting cookies from their website. From May 26, the EU ePrivacy Directive will be adopted in the UK – changing the way traders do business. Failure to comply with the new rules, which demand that companies tell visitors to their website how their cookies will be deployed and get upfront consent, could mean a fine of up to £50,000.

The rules were first due to come into force last May, but a last-minute decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office delayed their impact for a year. That delay is now coming to an end and in a little over five weeks, retailers and other UK organisations with websites will be expected to comply with them.

But in news that could worry retailers, a new survey from Econsultancy has found that less than a quarter of web users will happily say yes when asked to accept cookies. Some 1,097 web users were quizzed in the poll, which found 17% said they definitely would not accept cookies if prompted when arriving at a website. Sixty percent said they might, depending on what they were used for, and only 23% agreed that they would immediately say yes.

Cookies have different uses, and 60% said they would agree to them saving the contents of a shopping cart. Some 35% would agree to retailers tracking the user experience via web analytics and 21% would allow cookies used to improve the targeting of ads.

The survey also showed only 26% of visitors would agree to cookies that helped to make a website easy to use, 24% would ‘soldier on’, and 50% would use another website.

Perhaps still more concerning, Econsultancy also cites a larger survey of 1,593 respondents who found nearly a third of web users don’t know what a cookie is not why websites use them.

Econsultancy has put together a best practice guide, EU cookie law: a guide to compliance, to give companies a practical approach to complying with the new rules.

Its author Graham Charlton said the new rules were “a major – and somewhat unwelcome – challenge for online businesses in the UK.” He added: “As the survey results show, persuading users to opt in to cookies will be very difficult.

“Ecommerce sites that rely on analytics to improve the user experience and maximise conversion rates, and publishers which rely on advertising income in order to offer free content online face a serious challenge. The law could result in a loss of data, sales and ad income for many online businesses.”

Econsultancy’s five steps to cookie compliance

1. Carry out a cookie audit

2. Evaluate the privacy impact of each cookie

3. Carry out a business risk assessment

4. Figure out how you can inform users about cookies

5. Investigate methods for gaining consent

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