What is the EU Cookie Law?
The EU privacy directive has been well publisized, but with it being introduced as a set of guidelines for each individual country to implement with loosely-defined deadlines, it has gone to the back of advertisers' minds. With the laws in the UK now laid out, and the majority of EU countries reaching the enforcement deadline, it is now vital to have a clear understanding of how these individual laws are coming in to affect and what needs to be done to ensure compliance.
The guidelines laid down by the EU were open to interpretation by the individual countries, but the emphasis is to give consumers:
- Notice of personal data collection and intended use of data
- Means to control how their data is being used
This applies for all cookies that are being used, and not purely for advertising use; the basic message is that a user needs to know when a cookie is being collected, why that cookie is there and when that cookie is being used.
Opt-In or Opt-Out
As mentioned these guidelines leave the individual member countries open to interpret their versions of the laws as they see fit, and simply put they break down into either an “Opt-In” or an “Opt-Out” response.
Opt-In: Or “Explicit consent” is the route that some member countries have taken on the directive, and is a far stricter interpretation. This approach requires the user to give expressed consent to allow cookies after being informed of reasoning and uses. Examples of countries that have gone down this route are Austria, Greece and Poland.
Opt-Out: Otherwise known as “Implied Consent” seems to be the most common interpretation for the directive, and allows compliance with informed consent. So by allowing users to see they are being cookied and how this is being used, combined with reasonable information to the user on the reasoning behind it and giving instructions on how to opt out, the user is given the ability to make an informed choice on whether or not they wish to allow the cookies on their system to be used. The UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain are all examples of Opt-Out countries.
The good news is that the law that the ICO passed in the UK on the 26th May 2011 followed the Opt-Out route, and was implemented with a year’s grace period before direct action will be taken against those that don’t comply.
The rulings cover all types of cookies that aren’t ‘strictly necessary’, an example of which they define as "a cookie you use to ensure that when a user of your site has chosen the goods they wish to buy and clicks the ‘add to basket’ or ‘proceed to checkout’ button, your site ‘remembers’ what they chose on a previous page." They also warn that this should be interpreted quite narrowly, and has to be a case of function not form, so not covering uses that are purely for design or for personal statistical information.
What does this mean for advertising?
The good news for the industry, (and for the consumer), is that the feedback we have had from the US, where this has been in effect for some time, is that the majority of users don't choose to opt out. Once informed of th way in which their data can be stored and used, a very small (1/30) fraction of consumers choose to opt out.
So in order to comply, both sites and advertisers have to ensure that they are allowing users to see in a clear way what the cookies are being used for, and how they can choose to avoid being targeted by them. This can be done in a number of ways, and there are no specific rules as to how it should be approached, but a good set of guidelines to go by can be found on the ICO website: www.ico.gov.uk/cookie-regulations
Currently there is no 100% solution through browser settings, so what can a site do to ensure they are complying, and what solutions are there to companies like us that use cookie data as part of our online campaigns? The most popular route seems to be using some sort of recognised symbol, that people are able to recognise and instantly understand that this means that cookies are being used, and that links through to a page with further information as to what and why data is being stored and also how they can opt-out. So the Ad Choices Icon program was born.
We partner with Evidon, who work with us to ensure that all of our clients advertising is fully compliant to the new laws. Their Ad Choice solution is certified as a working solution to the directive and UK laws by all the relevant governing bodies. By having a recognised icon on the site and the ads, compliance is achieved in a way that is accessible to the user without being overly intruding or spoiling the look of the site and ads. An example ad choice logo on a display ad:
Scrolling over the icon prompts the user to click to expand for further information, this then explains the reasoning behind the individual ad having been displayed to that user, and that it is used in order to ensure that ads seen are relevant and of interest to you as a person .
This can then be followed through to the Evidon site, which provides further information to the user and also allows them to either manage individual tracking, or to choose to opt out from all future cookies. They also provide a matching solution for the webpage itself, again utilising the ad choice logo.
Please visit the Evidon site for further information of their offering, or feel free to contact us directly for further information on what needs to be done for your individual situation.