Are the new laws regarding cookies anything to worry about?

The European e-Privacy Directive becomes law from the 25th of May 2011 and the media are worrying a lot of website owners about it's requirements for cookies.

Cookies are used by pretty much every website in the world one way or another. Sometimes to track visitors, sometimes to manage logins, other times to manage shopping carts. For example, if you use Google Analytics, this means you.

So should you be worried about the new requirements?

[This article has a follow up.]

With my best lawyer hat on, it's hard to say at the moment.

But with my realistic hat on, I'd say probably not.

The European e-Privacy Directive is explicitly technology-neutral and doesn't mention cookies by name. But the intention is clear. If your website uses cookies (or other tracking technology), visitors need to consent to them being used.

It doesn't say how they should consent, which means that due to current browsers, they already are consenting. All major browsers have the ability to refuse cookies or to selectively accept them. Most people have their browsers set to blindly accept all cookies because it gets really annoying to have to accept them all the time.

And this will be the killer.

If websites need to explicitly ask permission before using cookies for every visitor, the internet is going to become a very annoying place.

Imagine having to accept cookies on every website you visit. Someone will probably just write some software to plug into browsers to automatically accept cookies....just like most browsers already do.

In truth, this part of the e-Privacy directive can only have a negative effect on the consumer. At best, it will have no effect because the current technology already satisfies it.

We'll be keeping an eye on this story because it's all in the interpretation so we need confirmation of how the judiciary will choose to interpret it.

For the time being, I think it's pretty safe to ignore this completely. However, if things change, we'll update you with another blog post.

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[This article has a follow up.]

* Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice, it is just our professional opinion of current affairs.