Something that’s been in the spotlight lately is the recent changes to EU law which relate to the use of ‘cookies‘ on websites. The ‘e-Privacy Directive’ has in one fell swoop made the vast majority of websites in the EU technically illegal.

To explain cookies, one first has to understand how a website works at the most fundamental level. Basically, every time you open a page or click a link, you make a new ‘request’ to the web server, which sends you the page you asked for. The web server has very basic information about you in the form of an ‘IP address‘, although this is not really a very good indicator of an individual visitor to a website (for instance, everyone in the same company/building may have the same IP address).

The only real way a website can tell that the person who visited page A is the same person who visited page B is by storing a small file on that user’s computer, and by checking that file each time they load a page. Think of it as a ‘ticket’ automatically issued at the gates to the website. While you’re using the website, your ticket allows the website to know that you are visiting certain pages, doing certain things and so on.

These cookies are typically used on websites to provide social media integration (the Facebook ‘Like’ button, LinkedIn ‘Follow’ button and some Twitter feeds) so that a website knows who you are when you click ‘Like’, and sends it to your Facebook account. They’re also used by Google Analytics in a fundamental way to provide valuable website metrics related to visitor trends and activity – not personally identifiable but just to give an idea broadly of what’s going on with the website.

So what does this mean for us? Metrics and the ability to evaluate performance of our sites is an absolutely key part of what we do as an agency. In everything else we do, we have key performance indicators and evaluative metrics available in order for us to do the best possible job we can for our clients. If we have no Google Analytics, we are severely limited in how we can report to our clients. Also, one of our big things is social media and how it’s integrated into our clients’ websites. If we can’t use this integration then we lose a big part of the instant visitor engagement that makes our sites so compelling.

Thankfully, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A last-minute change to the wording of the law has allowed for so called ‘implicit consent’. This allows websites to display a message at the top stating that by using the site, you agree to their cookie policy. The Guardian and Barclays have both adopted this approach, and it seems for now that this is acceptable.


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