Small Businesses May Fall Foul of Cookie Laws

Small firms may fall foul of new EU rules governing the use of cookies on their websites, the Forum of Private Business (FPB) has warned.

The majority of businesses in the UK use cookies to analyse online consumer behaviour, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the body responsible for enforcing the law.

Under the new law, which was introduced on 26th May 2011, it is now illegal for businesses to use cookies without seeking user consent first.

Cookies allow websites to remember visitors and store their preferences such as log-in details, browsing history and ordering information, by installing a small piece of code on a user’s computer.

The FPB urged businesses to make any necessary changes to their website as soon as possible, or risk facing a fine of up to £500,000.

“Previously, the rules surrounding the use of cookies meant that you were obliged to explain somewhere on your website how you used them and how visitors could stop your site from doing so, but that was it.”

said FPB chief executive Phil Orford.

“Now, you won’t be able to put cookies on people’s computers without them consciously giving their consent for you to do so, even if it means your website might not work properly as a result.”

The ICO admitted the new EU rules were “challenging” for firms because of the need to gain consent to use cookies from website users, and “negotiating endless pop-ups” could ruin a customer’s experience.

However, the ICO has confirmed it will give small-business owners up to 12 months to make necessary alterations before it would press for prosecution.

Malcolm Elmsworth, technical director of web design agency Electric Putty, said in most cases, cookies were used “completely innocently” by businesses to remember information about customers.

“If you do use cookies, first assess how intrusive they are. Roll-down ‘accordions’ or pop-up windows which offer an ‘opt-in’ option when somebody uses your site are possible. Unfortunately, no method is very elegant and they all disrupt the user’s experience.”

Elmsworth added.

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