You may have read recently that the regulations around cookies and storing user information online are changing! But don't panic - make sure you know how this may impact your company's website and make the necessary changes.

A cookie is a small text file containing a unique ID that is placed on your computer by a website and then stores files of information, such as what pages you visit or what information you enter. These cookies tend to be mutually beneficial, making for a smoother and more personalised user experience, whilst allowing companies to monitor site performance.

Last year new legislation was introduced across the European Union and the UK surrounding privacy online and the explicit use of cookies. Companies will now have to ask users to opt-in, thus giving prior consent, to allow sites to store cookies based on their activity online rather than the original opt-out model. Moreover, this new cookie law ensures that cookies can only be activated and user information stored if the user has given their express consent first. However, the law and corresponding actions only applies to users visiting the site from within the EU. While the total effects of this cookie legislation are still not certain it will impact the way in which your website performs.

By the end of May 2012 all companies will need to be in compliance with the new cookie law outlined by the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) or risk operating illegally online, and ultimately, facing charges. These changes aim to better regulate tracking technology and protect individual users and their privacy online. However, due to the broad terminology applied, it has been difficult to determine the implications for the use of cookies, which are at times necessary. This, in combination with an unwillingness to reduce the tracking capabilities of their websites, has resulted in 34% of retailers still failing to do anything in order to comply. Moreover, companies do not want to negatively impact upon the user experience for their customers.

Cookies fall into two categories, which in layman's terms include temporary and permanent cookies. Temporary cookies are only placed on the user's computer for the duration of the individual visit and are then lost once the browser is closed. These cookies directly benefit the user experience at the time and include things like shopping basket cookies, which record what products have been added to your basket. Alternatively, permanent cookies are placed on the user's hard disk and remain there, recording returning visits and user activity continuously, until they are deleted by the user or expire. Their effects are less immediate meaning users often mistake them for harmful 'spyware', however they generally aim to enhance the user experience by reducing the amount of duplicate information the user need enter to a site. Ultimately, permanent cookies tend to make the site experience better for the user in the future.

The only cookies that will be exempt from the new cookie law are those deemed as critical by the ICO, such as shopping cart cookies. But these exceptions are few and far between.


  • Companies will have to provide clear information on the intents and purposes of storing user information and ensure prior consent before taking any action.
  • This will impact both your main website and your mobile site if you have one.
  • Analytics programmes will not be able to track a user's activities unless they give their explicit consent, therefore measurability will be greatly reduced. For example, when the ICO introduced the cookie law to its own website it experienced a 90% decrease in online trackable traffic.

Companies will approach the changes in cookie legislation in a variety of different ways, for example Eccomplished reports that 34% of retailers intend to apply compulsory pop-ups, which request consent for the use of cookies. However, we would suggest that pop-ups are not the best solution. Pop-ups will negatively impact upon the user experience, as unless the user gives their consent from the get go they will continue to appear every time the user visits a new page, thus deterring the user from returning to your site.

To tackle this new challenge, After Digital is in the process of developing a customisable cookie widget to display on client websites, which will ask the user to give their consent for the company to implement cookies. The overall aim of such a widget should be to clearly communicate with the user what cookies will be installed and why, as well as making the user understand that these are a good thing. The user must be made to understand that not consenting to the use of cookies will negatively impact upon personalised features, such as social buttons/plugins etc, and their user experience as a whole.

The key is to create a solution that enhances users' understanding of cookies and underlines the benefits of consenting to them.


  • Make sure your privacy policy is up-to-date to include information on the storage of user information.
  • 66% of retailers are carrying out cookie audits - Make sure you too analyse what cookies and other storage technologies are currently used by your site and why.
  • Ensure your mobile website (if you have one) also complies with cookie law.
  • After Digital recommends utilising a sticky bar or static check box over pop-ups, as they are less disruptive to the user experience.
  • Make sure that the design and wording of your solution encourages the user to click 'yes' by communicating the benefits of consenting to cookie usage.

If you want your site to be as compliant and efficient as possible After Digital can help! We can conduct a full cookie audit of your site, help you update your privacy policy, and install our unique, customised cookie widget. Give us a call today on 0141 33 11 323 or email us at [email protected]

Do you have any questions surrounding the new cookie legislation?

What is your organisation doing to address these changes and ensure compliance?