Posted by: Affiniti Digital Media | May 29, 2012

Impact of the EU ePrivacy Directive “Cookie Law”

The new EU ePrivacy directive – the so-called “cookie law” – came into effect on 26 May. Are you now compliant? Are you worried about the impact it will have on your ability to see how people are using your website? Are you concerned you will no longer be able to target advertising and monitor marketing effectiveness? Will your website revenue be impacted by the implementation of the directive? What’s the best way to be compliant?

The EU Directive & Compliance

There’s been plenty of debate on the merit of this EU directive but the time to get on and comply has arrived. In simple terms all sites owned by businesses located in the EU must now ensure their websites provide visitors with clear information about the use of cookies on the site – which cookies are present and what they are doing – and then seek consent to allow cookies to be stored on their computers.

Getting Consent

There are 3 broad compliance solutions to the need to get consent from site visitors:

  1. A prominent link to the websites cookie policy (perhaps as part of the overall privacy policy) which then utilises “implied consent” i.e. by continuing to use the site the visitor is deemed to give their consent.
  2. User is given the means to opt-in/out of groups of cookies (e.g. social, tracking, advertising cookies)
  3. User is actively required to opt-in to cookies (i.e. cookies are off unless visitor accepts them)

Our Test of a Cookie Law consent solution

We decided to do a controlled test using one of our websites to see the impact of the implementation of a level 2-3 (i.e. opt-in/out of groups of cookies) consent solution. We implemented an open source solution (a plug-in) with a consent bar at the top of the web pages. It’s a belt and braces solution that requires the visitor to opt-in to cookies either on an “all” basis or “groups” basis.

The site uses Google Analytics and this would fail to track visitors unless they opted-in to analytics tracking. We ran the site this way for 24 hours and then compared the analytics data to the server logs. We then standardised the data against a normal Monday and estimated the effect of the cookie banner implementation.

The Results

The test provided some quite frightening results. It would appear that only 20% of visitors opted-in to allowing tracking cookies. The implication is that 80% of the traffic to the test site became invisible. Some of this traffic still converted and generated revenue, but we don’t know how they got to the site and we don’t know how they journeyed around the site. If we had been using Google Adwords to drive traffic to the site then it is uncertain that we would know which of the paid-for traffic was generating the revenue. This would make managing a Google Adwords campaign a lottery! A challenging prospect.

The other factor was that we judged that actual revenues from the site were down by 20% due to the cookie banner implementation – it is clear that some people when confronted by the cookie banner simply walked away from the site.

What Should You Do?

Obviously if we had been running the cookie opt-in banner for an extended period we could have optimised it to reduce its impact. For instance we could have come up with a better form of words to encourage people to accept cookies. However, it’s hard to imagine that you could bridge the 80% “data gap” completely. And then there is the 20% “revenue gap” to consider.

What are we going to do? It seems to us that the most sensible solution is to implement the implied consent option (option 1 above). The link to the cookie policy needs to be prominent enough but once implemented at least you know that your cookies will be working unless the visitor goes into their browser to turn them off.

More Information

Information Commissioners Office – ICO

AboutCookies – how to control cookies on your computer

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