The Cookie law is a European based law, and is being implemented across Europe. It requires websites and app developers to move towards providing clearer information on cookie use and obtaining consent for their use. Cookies are used by almost all websites for a wide variety of purposes including security, user preferences, improving website functionality as well as for third party advertising.
The Cookie law has caused concern among businesses, as they found it challenging to understand what guidelines they should be adopting. In many cases this has left businesses unsure of how to comply without falling foul of the stricter interpretations of the law. The ultimate sanction could be enforcement action from the ICO which includes fines of up to £500,000.
Another fundamental issue is that while this flows from a European law, it is clear that much of mainland Europe has yet to take it seriously. And there is no apparent impetus to find out when the rest of Europe as a whole intends to do so – if ever.
Some businesses find that alarming, given that there should be a level playground where European laws are concerned. The UK has played this with a straight bat to fulfil its obligations under European law. With the UK being first out of the blocks, some fear that UK PLC’s online economy may be jeopardised, particularly as the rest of the EU is yet to show signs of joining the race.
If the new cookie law is fully enforced to its strictest interpretation, it could make Europe – and principally the UK – a less attractive web environment for customers to place their business. And less competitive globally, which goes against the government’s publicised support of high-growth business centres such as London’s Tech City.
A recent report from QuBit suggests that the cookie law could cost the UK economy as much as £10bn through a drop in direct sales and the knock-on effects on online advertising and trade. The ICO commented last week that it wants to encourage “good compliance” and not “rushed compliance”, and that its guidance allowed for a tailored interpretation for each website. This approach should be applauded in as much as it takes the immediate pressure off, but businesses need clarity on how implementation will develop.
The government has a role to play – it must ensure there is a fair playing field across Europe. Britain’s tech industry and wider economy deserves it.
Vinod Bange is a data protection specialist and partner at international law firm Taylor Wessing.