The European law that defines what details sites can record in text files called cookies came into effect on May 26th. Thousands of UK websites are now in breach of these laws. The law has been discussed for some time and originally required ‘explicit consent’ from site visitors however a last-minute adjustment means that sites only have to obtain ‘implied consent’. This means that users do not have to make an explicit choice but by their continued use of a site will be taken to mean they are happy for information to be gathered. This is friendlier for businesses but means the UK is not is step with the rest of the EU when it comes to the transparency of cookies.
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) says that it is a concern that so many sites were not yet compliant. They have noted that it is not necessarily easy for every company to comply with the laws because of the amount of work involved. On busy sites an audit of current cookie practices could take time because of the sheer number of files they regularly issue, monitor and update.
With this in mind the ICO are looking to identify the non-compliant sites and investigate what they have done in the last 12 months to get ready for the new laws. There is the slight possibility of a £500,000 fine for those who flount the law and have done nothing to be prepared. Fines are unlikely as it is thought there will be little risk that a non-compliant site would cause a serious breach of data protection laws that is likely to cause substantial damage and distress to a user.
The ICO intends to use formal undertakings and/ or enforcement notices to make sites take action. It is hoped that if a company comply with one of these notices or sign an undertaking then they will be committed to doing it properly. As well as advising firms, the ICO has issued guidelines to the public which explains what cookies are, how to change cookie settings and how to complain if they are worried about a site’s policy.
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