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Cookie consent banners draw complaints

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By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 18 Dec 2012 at 12:52

Web users are "unhappy" with the banners used to gain "implied consent" to meet new cookie laws, the Information Commissioner's Office has admitted in a report.

The data watchdog was tasked with enforcing an EU directive, which stated web users must be asked for consent before a site drops a tracking cookie on their computer.

The law came into force at the end of May, and the ICO said at the last minute that websites would be considered compliant if they prominently warned users that cookies were in use - a solution dubbed "implied consent" that has been used by major many websites, from the BBC to PC Pro, and even the ICO itself.

A significant number of people also raised concerns about the new rules themselves and the effect of usability of websites

Since its reporting tool went online at the end of May until the end of November, the ICO received 550 complaints about websites - an average of three per day, the report revealed.

At the same time, the watchdog received 53,000 complaints about spam texts and marketing calls, which the ICO said suggests "consumers' level of awareness and concern about cookies is relatively low."

The ICO audited 200 of the top sites visited by UK users, and any that had received a complaint via the online reporting tool, saying "almost all" of the sites that had taken "significant" steps to address cookies were relying on an implied consent banner - and that was irritating users.

"The majority of concerns from consumers about these sites related to their use of implied consent," it said, adding that one of the major themes of consumer complaints was that people "are unhappy with implied consent mechanisms, especially where cookies are placed immediately on entry to the site".

"A significant number of people also raised concerns about the new rules themselves and the effect of usability of websites," the ICO admitted.

Of the 550 sites reported, 45% provided some information about cookies, and 84% did ask permission to drop cookies.

Letter of the law

The ICO has already taken action to target sites that have received complaints. This autumn, it conducted a "basic visual audit" of 207 of those sites, finding 43% had obtained consent, 33% had taken "limited steps" to make users aware of cookies, and 23% had done nothing.

The watchdog wrote to 100 sites that had been reported - including PC Pro - alerting them of the complaints and "asking them to ensure they are compliant".

"Having visited your website, we are pleased to note you appear to have taken steps to comply, so we are writing to you at this point for information and to encourage you to check your site is fully compliant," the letter reads. "At this point we have not conducted a thorough audit of your site. This letter does not confirm your site is compliant, or suggest it is not, but is intended to keep you informed."

"We do not require a response to this letter and do not intend to take any further action at this point," the letter adds.

The ICO said it was considering 14 sites for further investigation. One of the sites it wrote to in its original letter campaign in May hadn't taken any steps to meet the rules, and the ICO said it would contact the organisation to set a deadline for compliance - and may "name the site" in order to make consumers aware.

The watchdog added that any action it takes would be "proportionate to the risk to consumers", but said if a company refuses to comply, or its use of cookies is "particularly privacy-intrusive", it will consider using its regulatory powers. Those include fines of up to £500,000, but the ICO said earlier this year that fines would be unlikely.

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User comments

Big surprise

Wow, who saw that coming? Telling users you are doing something they don't understand or care about, whether they like it or not, is annoying? Never.
I made a cookie warning for my companies website, we've never rolled it out as it's just likely to cause more problems and it's not like ICO are actually doing anything, and hey if anyone does complain, it's ready to go!

By bendeavin on 18 Dec 2012

A better answer would be for websites to not require people to accept the use of completely unnecessary cookies in order to access them.

By JamesD29 on 18 Dec 2012

The most irritating one must be MSN, as it lets me scroll down the page, then slowly scrolls back to the top to where the cookie disclaimer is.

By John_Greythorne on 18 Dec 2012

The new EU law is just plain annoying as a user.

Now I see all the warning pop ups but really does it make any difference?

By cyberindie on 18 Dec 2012

Pointless

This is the most pointless, ineffective bureaucratic exercise to appear online in several years.

No-one understands what they're consenting to and consent, or non-consent, achieves nothing.

By JohnWaller on 18 Dec 2012

Pointless

This is the most pointless, ineffective bureaucratic exercise to appear online in several years.

No-one understands what they're consenting to and consent, or non-consent, achieves nothing.

By JohnWaller on 18 Dec 2012

Understanding

Regardless of whether users understand, it is such a faff to avoid the cookie that users give up and accept it. Cyberindie is quite right this is just an annoyance.

By tirons1 on 19 Dec 2012

Pointless

Having that stupid banner appearing is hugely irritating. And on the 'Which?' website it actually obliterates the log-in area (there is a secondary log in area further down the page.)

In general the ICO's preferred (recommended?) implementation is completely pointless simply because, as has been stated above, the vast majority of users don't know or don't care.

As an aside, my browser is configured to delete all cookies on closing.

By jontym123 on 19 Dec 2012

No S**t Sherlock

The UK implementation of the Cookie law is a farce. It isn't necessarily the ICO's fault as the UK has to implement cookie compliance because of a poorly designed EU law that has been passed in Brussels.

By Tallfish1 on 19 Dec 2012

Geotargetted cookie banners

I hate the cookie warning banners as it is, but I hate even more how some non UK based websites have geotargetted cookie banners where the cookie banner at the top of the website appears if it detects you are in the UK, whereas if you access the website from a non UK location, the cookie banner never appears! MySpace is guilty of this.

And by the way, I have never, ever noticed cookie consent banners on this website!

By formula_86 on 19 Dec 2012

Awkward

I sometimes visit a site that sells art materials, and the cookie banner hides the search tool until you make a choice on consent.

By trishahardwick on 22 Dec 2012

Not allowing cookies?

What does a site do if you say you do not want cookies? Most sites seem to stop working if you don't allow cookies, which is not acceptable, as it is effectively blackmail. Sites should allow for non-cookie operation.

By KMJones1 on 27 Dec 2012

Would be interesting if some research was done on how general users understand this

in my household from two teenagers, one ten year old and a Teacher (my wife) none had ever bothered even reading the banners, and mostly just ignored them unless they were in the way. All are heavy Internet users. Is the rest of the population much different? How much has this whole thing cost I wonder, and is there any easily measurable benefit?

By IanBlackburn on 4 Nov 2013

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