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May 17 2011 2:36 PM

Preparing for the EU’s Cookie Law

An updated EU ePrivacy Directive comes into effect on May 26 with a controversial new stipulation that websites must ask users for permission to set cookies, and during this process must explain what the cookie is used for.  

The legislation is driven by concern about how some cookies store user data that is then shared between sites without the knowledge of users. This is a genuine issue that quite rightly needs guidelines (though often hyped up by scaremongers), but however well-intentioned the legislation is, it will be difficult to make work in practice.   For instance, the Directive takes a one-size-fits-all approach to cookies and doesn’t distinguish between a purely functional cookie that stores no user information and a more ‘intrusive’ cookie used (say) by 3rd party advertisers for behavioural targeting.

For this reason the legislation touches just about every website as the web is underpinned by cookies, and they are not going away anytime soon.  The main issue facing businesses right now is how to comply given there’s such a short time before it becomes law.   No one exactly seems to know what to do or how far to go.  

The truth is that everyone is watching to see how everyone else is going to tackle this.  Even the Information Commissioner’s Office website has 6 cookies placed when you visit it, so it’ll be interesting to see how they manage things (as of time of writing they are still in the same boat as everyone else).

The government have announced that, while the law comes into effect on 26 May, they will give all businesses a reasonable period of time to adapt and adjust, and that no one will be in trouble providing they are taking steps to comply.  They appreciate that making changes and updates will take time and will cost each business money.  

The first thing every business should now to is audit their site to understand how cookies are used.  But you know this already don’t you?  After all this should be disclosed in your existing privacy policy (a legal requirement since 2003).

There are then probably five options right now for businesses:

  1. A strict interpretation means implementing a strict opt-in policy for every type of cookie your site.   This pretty much means the death of user experience, and just watch your bounce rate rocket.  See this humourous example of how bad it could be.

  2. A similar but slightly less irritating version involves putting a single popup/layer/splash page in front of first time visitors asking them to agree to place cookies on their site.  This should be a one-size-fits-all statement covering all cookies that could at least be styled a little nicer to the example above.  Still not good for first impressions, and we still imagine some adverse effect on bounce rate.

  3. A subtler approach, and one we think can be used as a stop gap, is to have a clear flag/button on your homepage about the EU Directive (e.g. a tab on the top left that expands on user click), that lists the site’s cookie usage.   If you clearly state that ‘We are working hard right now to comply with the EU directive etc’, then your are following Government guidelines.  This then allows you to….

  4. ‘Wait and see what others do’.  This will be the most common approach.   Do nothing drastic right now and let’s see what the ICO and others implement on May 26 and shortly afterwards then to see what standards emerge.   (In fact, many businesses (including large brands) are quite unaware of the legislation, so are taking this approach through ignorance).
    As advice on implementation has been woolly and no one has any idea how the legislation will be enforced (if at all), sitting tight to see what others do first is arguably the best approach.  You are unlikely to get ‘done’, unless you being very naughty and unscrupulously selling on user data.

  5. A final method is to develop a new or alternative site that will never use cookies.   This is fine for a simple, flat site, but ultimately will be limiting on functionality and (when more functionality is required) will cost a lot more to develop as timely workarounds will need to be coded.  But this isn’t economically or functionally feasible for most businesses.  

I’d suggest a combination of #3 and #4 above is best for the next 2-3 months. If your business is the type whose legal team starts hyperventilating at the mention of this legislation then maybe you need to consider #2.   Overall, we think that a practical, usable approach will emerge, gain consensus and be adopted over the next 6 months or so, and as long as we make it very easy for users to understand what cookies are being used for, we feel it’s good to sit tight for this consensus to appear.>

Ultimately, in future this issue will probably be solved by browser developers, so that users can set their own personal cookie preferences within browser settings, allowing users to set the types of cookies that they will allow and (in fact, Firefox 4 already has an option allowing users to block Google Analytics.).  

But to do this, standards need to emerge to classify types of cookies.  This is going to take time, and similar but (of course) subtly different US legislation is due out soon, which also need to be accommodated.  

So in the meantime, be seen to be taking steps to comply, then let’s see what  practical approaches emerge.

Paul Hatcher 0
September 15 2009 10:59 AM

Brand guidelines not fit for purpose

I’ve just been looking through two sets of brand guidelines, both forhousehold-name b2b brands. They are nice, shiny, well produceddocuments. Look great in print. But I’m looking for guidance on howwe use the brands for online projects we’re planning.

What we need to know - and I think should reasonably expect of proper, complete, fully-rounded brand guidelines - is how the brands should live in the online environment.

And nope, there’s nothing there. It’s completely absent. It doesn’t appear seem to have beenconsidered at all. They aren’t even that old - the last one was produced in 2008.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that most of what these ‘guidelines’contain is a now total irrelevance to the way a brand needs to be usednow.

Paul Hatcher 0
May 17 2009 9:03 PM

A new economic morality for b2b?

In this verycompelling and thought-provoking presentation, Umair Haque presents analternative perspective on the current economic situation.

Part economictreatise, part manifesto, he first discusses how the situation we findourselves - the bankruptcy of the western economic model - was fuelled by thepursuit of what he calls ‘thin value’: not real value at all, but aboutcreating perceived value out of nothing in a self-centred and unsustainable way,and not benefiting the greater-good at all.    Theresult of this he calls is the ‘Zombieconomy’ - industries and corporations nowworth nothing.  Great phrase.

Interestingly, he thenargues that for the economy to grow we need to re-conceive value creation, and itneeds to be based upon providing real value all the way through the economicchain.  To be based more uponprinciples than strategy.  It’scertainly and interesting perspective on where we find ourselves now anddefinitely worth 20 minutes of your time to view it yourself.   He has some interesting examples.

To me it seems for B2Bbrands, taking up the positions of leadership, stewardship and trusteeship Umairtalks about could provide the potential to become truly different and to growsustainably out of the current crisis.  

Offhand, I can’t thinkof many in b2b who are really taking this kind of approach right now.   Do we think that the up-turn will come and we’ll be back tohow it was before?  View thepresentation and let me know your thoughts.

Paul Hatcher 0
March 26 2009 9:38 PM

Augmented Response

I’ve been reading about Augmented Reality, which no doubt offers the most incredible new way to prompt a response from DM, or on page ads, or any other printed materials.

To see what I mean, read about this trailblazing campaign for Mini in Germany.   Now, imagine that’s your DM piece in their hands.

OK, not everyone has a webcam on the computer right now, but in 3 years they will.  Now’s the time for the creative minds of the B2B world to start flexing in preparation.

I really respect Mini for being brave enough to invest and test in these techniques.  OK, a lot of people may not have the ability to respond - but I bet they were intrigued.  And the publicity Mini receive for doing this will only help an already stellar brand (can you tell I’m a fan?). 

Paul Hatcher 0