What’s cooking with cookies?

Cookies have become a hot topic for the ICO, with it receiving many complaints about websites’ (often unlawful) use of cookies. This theme looks set to continue into 2020.

This is particularly the case since a huge number of organisations, including some of the largest businesses in the UK, have still not updated their practices to ensure they comply with the rules. This is despite the fact that the ICO published clear guidance concerning the requirements for the lawful use of cookies in summer 2019.

It is likely that the ICO will start taking enforcement action against organisations which do not follow the rules, and this could lead to fines. As such, businesses which are not yet compliant should take steps to ensure compliance now.

At a high level, the following are the main rules when using cookies on websites:

  1. User consent must be obtained (except in relation to “strictly necessary cookies”)

The ICO confirmed that the standard of consent for using cookies is the same high standard as under the GDPR, even for cookies which do not involve the processing of personal data. This means that implied or inferred consent can no longer be relied on for cookies. For consent, a clear affirmative act is needed; pre-ticked boxes or inactivity does not constitute consent.

Websites which use non-essential cookies without specifically requiring users to consent to these when accessing a site (e.g. by specifying that continued use entails consent) are, therefore, not compliant. This also means that all non-essential cookies should be switched off by default. It also means that such cookies should only be served on the user if and when the user consents.

“Strictly necessary cookies”, which do not require consent, are those which are essential to provide a user with the service they have requested or to comply with applicable law. Analytics cookies and advertising cookies do not fall within this exemption.

  1. Provide clear and transparent information to users concerning the cookies you use

The ICO Guidance emphasises the need to provide users with transparent information about cookies. The information must be in accordance with the higher standards of transparency as required by the GDPR; it must be presented in a “concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language”.

In relation to cookies, this means that online retailers need to review and update their cookies policies to ensure that these are drafted in a sufficiently clear and easily accessible manner for a normal user to be able to understand how the different types of cookies are being used on the website. Failure to provide clear information will breach the transparency requirement, and will also undermine any “consent” if the consent cannot be said to be sufficiently informed.

Highlighting the importance of transparency and consent, in January 2019, the French data protection regulator imposed a fine of €50 million on Google for lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent regarding ads personalization on mobile devices. For more information on this, see further https://idatalaw.com/2019/01/25/e50m-fine-for-google-in-france/

Return to Data Privacy Day 2020 index

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