How to let visitors know you're using cookies

The forthcoming EU cookie law, which comes into effect on 26th May 2012 means that any company using cookies on their website for anything other than essential functionality needs to request permission from the user to allow cookies to be sent.

There are a few ways you can do that. You can include information about the cookies on your website in your Privacy Policy and hope people spot it; display a banner letting people know about the cookie use on your site; or use a popup message that visitors need to respond to in order to continue using the site.

I’ve been exploring some of these options today and thought I’d pass on my findings so you have some ideas of how to proceed.

I already have a cookie policy in my existing Privacy Policy, so I’m protected from the Category 1 “strictly necessary” cookies – but I am a little concerned that the law is pretty vague over whether things like Google Analytics cookies need permission.

With this in mind I have installed a WordPress plugin called Cookillian to this website. You may have spotted the a banner at the top of the site that lets you opt in or out of cookies. If you opt out you can continue to use the site without receiving any cookies, though some features will not work – for example, if you leave comments you will always have to fill in their details. If you accept the cookies, the site will work as normal. You can, of course, completely ignore the banner – you can still use the site and no cookies will be placed, though the banner will always be there.

I found Cookillian really easy to set up and it looks okay too. I did have to get my hosting company to upgrade my hosting to PHP 5.3 though.

Another option, which has plugins/modules for WordPress, Drupal and Magneto as well as a customisable code for any website, is Cookie Control. This places a small logo in the corner of your website, with a pop up message requesting permission to use cookies. It looks really nice, and is easy to set up, but as far as I can tell it only limits the placing of Google Analytics cookies and there isn’t a way to refuse them altogether. But if you only use Google Analytics cookies on your site this might be an unobtrusive way of warning people.

In both the above cases it could be that my Google Analytics will be affected, if people don’t accept the cookies. I’ll be monitoring traffic over the next few weeks and will let you know if I notice a drop in the visitor numbers it records.

If you know you are using Category 4 cookies – for example, cookies that track your visitors’ browsing habits in order to deliver relevant advertising – you may need a stronger form of protection. In that case, you might be interested in the EU Cookie Law Plugin, developed by blogger Sarah Arrow. (Link removed as site appears to have been hacked.)  This plugin lets you display a page before visitors land on your website where you can explain the plugins you use and request permission. If it’s given the visitor proceeds to the website as normal (and receives cookies). if it’s refused, access to the website is blocked. It’s a pretty strong arm method but if you know you are using cookies that could be illegal without permission being given, it could be your best option. It costs £10 for single sites – but that’s better than a maximum £500,000 fine!

What you do need to realise is that these solutions only work the first time a visitor comes to your website – existing/return visitors are unlikely to see these unless they have recently cleared their cookies from their browser – so make sure you also have a strong Cookie Policy in place too.

I hope these solutions will help you decide how best to deal with cookies on your website. If you need any help, for a small fee I can install them for you – for £20 I will add either Cookillian to a WordPress site or Cookie Control  to any site (you will need to give me access to your WP site and your website control panel). For £30 I’ll purchase and install the EU Cookie Law Plugin to your WP site. And for an extra £30 (£50/£60 in all) I’ll run a cookie audit to see exactly what’s running on your site, write you a cookie policy and add it to your website. Just give me a call on 01367 888229 or email me if you’d like to discuss which option would be best for you.

Sadly I can’t guarantee that any of this will prevent you being caught out – the law is pretty vague in some areas and no one yet knows how it will be monitored or who, if anyone, will be penalised – but make sure you do protect yourself from a possible half a million pound fine!

3 comments to How to let visitors know you’re using cookies

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