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Cookies vs. Google Analytics

Posted on 23rd September 2011 in Industry News, Interesting Stuff
Written by: Andy Wickes

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has recently announced a change in the law relating to the use of cookies on websites. The potted version (links to the full version) is that as a website owner you will soon have to provide a mechanism for your users to  ‘opt in’ to the use of cookies on websites, whereas previously the onus was on the user to opt-out. So what do you, the foodservice website owner do?

But first, a brief description of what a cookie is, and what it does – this from the BBC:

“When you visit a site that uses cookies for the first time, a cookie is downloaded onto your PC. The next time you visit that site, your PC checks to see if it has a cookie that is relevant (that is, one containing the site name) and sends the information contained in that cookie back to the site.
The site then ’knows’ that you have been there before, and in some cases, tailors what pops up on screen to take account of that fact. For instance, it can be helpful to vary content according to whether this is your first ever visit to a site – or your 71st.”

Most browser vendors have provided the ability for users to block cookies from running within the browser, and the ability to clear cookies has likewise been a part of the operating system and the browser meaning you can clear any cookie data stored on your machine. So in terms of opting out, the facilities have always been there.

The change here is that any website that wants to use a cookie, and vitally a cookie that is not essential to the function of your website, must gain the explicit permission of the user before it can store itself on the user’s machine. The only exception to this at the moment are cookies that are vital to the running of the website, for example a cookie that remembers the content of a users shopping cart on an e-commerce site.

The controversy caused over this issue is that most Analytics programmes (software used to measure the traffic levels to your website, an example being Google Analytics) use cookies to collect traffic data. Which means that if as a website owner you wish to continue using Google Analytics then you will need to find a solution to gain ‘opt-in’ from the user for the cookie to run. As we go to press, Google haven’t made a statement as to how Google Analytics aims to deal with this change in the cookie law. So a lot of people who had not explicitly requested that their website serve up cookies for any purpose and thought this law did not apply to them, have found that their Analytics software does use cookies and therefore they must think again and take action.

If you would like help in this matter, to find out if, and how to get your site to comply with these new regulations then drop us a line on 01372 227950

Link to the statement from the ICO

All about Cookies