Are the cookie laws crumbling already?

They haven't even been enforced yet, but the cookie laws are looking a tad frail already, argues Tom Brewster.

Who's afraid of the big bad commissioner? In the cookie space, apparently no one. There is little to be afraid of just yet, hence why so few are bowing before the EU regulation.

Cookie monsters

Yet companies are not happy with the regulation. There is strong opposition facing the laws and the lack of clarity around them. On the latter point, the ICO has issued guidance for businesses, but there are so many 'mights' and 'maybes' in its advice it makes for ultimately unsatisfactory reading. The only real rule UK firms can go by is that users must show, in a "positive" way, that they agree to have cookies installed on their machines.

For website owners, the lack of definitive guidance is just a minor issue. The real beef is with the law itself.

But for website owners, the lack of definitive guidance is just a minor issue. The real beef is with the law itself. It only means more red tape for them to grapple with. For those companies who chuck a large number of cookies on users' systems, they will have to figure out how and where to get consent without ruining the experience on their sites. This takes time and money, something very few have plenty of or are willing to squander.

A Socitm report from earlier this year showed how massive the task facing UK organisations was. In an audit of 603 public sector websites, on average each site had 32 cookies. One had 1,346, just six had none. This would indicate almost all companies online (nearly all businesses then..), according to the law, will need to invest in compliance.

At a time when the UK is staring a second recession straight in the face, the cookie law represents another big bother for companies, one they could sorely do without.

A nightmare before Christmas?

On the one hand, there is little deterrent for companies. They won't be hunted down and they won't even have to make immediate changes to their websites if they're caught out. Furthermore, there is little evidence consumers actually care about cookies or that complaints will be made. The maximum 500,000 fines won't bother the big boys much either.

On the other, cookie laws are simply anathema to businesses and their web plans. Companies will continue to oppose the regulations and some will look elsewhere if they feel compliance is getting too much on these shores. That's more bad news for Britain.

With so many problems facing the EU-driven legislation already, and little apparent citizen support of it, it would come as no surprise if the cookie law crumbled before it even makes a mark on the UK.

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