Website owners are scrambling to update their software to take account of a new law demanding users consent before saving cookies which comes into effect this Sunday.
Cookies of the digital variety denote pieces of personal data relating to the activities of individual browsers as they navigate the web. These allow websites to track what their readers have been looking at, amongst other things.
Technically the new rules give surfers an opt out from such practices although in practice little will change in the short term as the Information Commissioners Office has vowed only to offer guidance to sites which fail to meet the deadline.
The move has spurred a burgeoning business in helping people make sense of the new law with online marketing specialists I-COM teaming up with JMW Solicitors to instruct website owners in how to meet their obligations, amidst fears expressed by Qubit that incorrect application of the rules could cost the UK economy up to £10bn.
Operations Director at I-COM Mike Blackburn commented: "The new cookie regulations are at face value very onerous and it will be very difficult for most businesses to comply with them fully.
This confusion isn’t just limited to the public with nearly half of all marketers “still in the dark about what constitutes consent”, according to the Direct marketing Association and DataGuidance.
Lindsay Grieg, managing editor of DataGuidance , said: “The question is not so much the definition of a cookie, but clarity on consumer consent. To comply with the law, marketers need to provide clear, transparent information to consumers so that they can make an informed choice to accept cookies from websites and digital communications”.
Speaking to The Drum Lisa Myers, CEO of vervesearch.com said: "The cookie law feels a bit like the “millennium bug” to me. Everyone is panicking and trying to find a way to comply, but I’m not sure there is much point. Is there really anyway they can police this? Short answer is no. There is also hundreds of fundamental flaws and loopholes which will make it pretty difficult even if they do manage to “catch” someone in the act.
A report compiled by Econsultancy has found that 17% of web users would definitely not accept cookies if asked and just 23% stating they would immediately accept them. The remainder said they may accept them depending on the specific situation.
Graham Charlton, the report’s author, says: "The ECPR is a major - and somewhat unwelcome - challenge for online businesses in the UK. As the survey results show, persuading users to opt in to cookies will be very difficult.
“E-commerce sites that rely on analytics to improve the user experience and maximise conversion rates, and publishers which rely on advertising income in order to offer free content online face a serious challenge.
“The law could result in a loss of data, sales and ad income for many online businesses.”
Ultimately however the law may, once again, be behind the technology as cookie-less tracking becomes increasingly popular. Claire Grant of Aspect Web Media notes: “Some US companies are already migrating to server-to-server tracking which eliminates the need for cookies altogether.
“Cookie-less tracking is also arguably more powerful than cookie-based tracking because it minimises tracking issues which can be created by consumer browser settings, mobile browsers, new web browsers and plug-ins that block and/or remove cookies. Server-to-server tracking can improve the overall reliability of performance-based tracking by sending data directly through a link or piece of code on a web page.”