10 questions you're asking us about cookies

A lot of you have been asking us for advice on cookies following a recent change in the law. The so-called ‘cookie law’ is part of a wide-reaching e-privacy directive, that deals with the regulation of a number of important issues such as confidentiality of information, treatment of traffic data, spam and cookies. It requires all websites in the UK to seek consent before using ‘non-essential’ cookies.
But in doing so you could be blocking crucial analysis tools from gathering anonymous data. Ninety-five per cent of websites use cookies in one form or another, so it’s important that you unsderstand just what is happening with your website, and what you need to do next.
It came into force on May 26, and below, you will find some frequently asked questions that many have been asking us. Please note that our advice is given as web consultants, not legal experts. As yet, the cookie law has not been tested in court and we can only interpret it as we read it.

1. What is a cookie?

A cookie is a small text file that is saved onto your computer when you visit a website. Most websites use them. They usually keep information, so that when you move away from a website, it can be read when you come back. This makes it easier for websites to give you a more personal experience.

2. Does my site use cookies?

If your site has any of the following features, it will almost certainly use cookies:

  • Shopping basket – to remember what you’ve put in your basket when you move from page to page
  • Login capabilities – to remember that you are logged in, or to save you logging in every time you revisit
  • Analytics – to record details of your visit to feed back to the service
  • Advertising – to pass information back to advertisers about your ad viewing
  • Sharing capabilities – to remember essential information that makes sharing easier

3. What’s the difference between an essential and a non-essential cookie?

An essential cookie is required for the website to operate as you would expect, eg a shopping cart. If you rejected cookies and your shopping basket stopped working, the website would be useless, so these are allowed. Cookies that track advertising and analytics, are said to be non-essential, so consent must be sought.

4. How should my website seek consent?

Shortly before the new rules came into effect, the Information Commissioner’s Office changed its guidelines to say that implied consent was OK. This means that you can tell visitors you use cookies without seeking opt-in consent, but you must also link them to your privacy policy or separate cookie policy. You must list all the cookies you use and what they are used for, and you must give your users the option to opt-out of using non essential cookies.

5. Can I do it myself?

Yes, if you feel you have the technical ability, there’s nothing stopping you from editing your own code, or adding one of the many pre-written scripts available. If your site is built with WordPress, you can use one of the plugins available, but always remember that you should check that any code you add or edit, does exactly what you want it to.

6. Will Canary Dwarf do it for me?

As providers of websites, we have an obligation to make our sites and services compliant with various laws including the Data Protection Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, and we will be providing the options for all new websites to be compliant with the e-Privacy Directive, according to the preferences of the website owner. We can also add cookie consent functionality to existing websites. Find out more about our cookie consent service.

7. Will I be fined if I don’t comply?

Only if you persistently refuse to follow the law. Before a fine, you would be given ample opportunity to make the necessary changes to your website.

8. What is Canary Dwarf doing about it?

You will see on our website that we have added an info bar which alerts users to the fact we use cookies, and a link to our privacy policy, where you can agree (to turn off the alert) or disagree (to block cookies until further notice) In the meantime, we will use cookies as outlined in our privacy policy until you tell us not to. This is what is called implied consent. By continuing to use the website, you have implied to us that you are happy for us to use cookies.

9. What will happen if I just stop using cookies on my website?

Most importantly, you lose your analytic services. These are the most important statistics that a website can collect on its users. They don’t identify users in any way (most, including Google Analytics, don’t even collect IP addresses), but they are an enormously important resource on which to improve your website. Losing these, or even some of these, will make it harder for you to know what is working on your website and what isn’t.

10. What if I have another question?

That’s easy, just email us. We’ll answer any questions you might have about your website and the cookie law. We hope that clears up some of what has become a very grey area, and shed some light not only on the new ‘cookie law’ but also on cookies themselves and how important they are for your website. You can read more about our cookie consent service.