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Wycombe web-expert calls for clarity over 'cookie' law
A CHANGE to the law governing the way business websites can store users’ information came into effect last month – and a Wycombe-based web expert has called for clearer guidance from the government to help firms meet the new requirements.
The EU Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, or so-called ‘cookie law’, means that website owners cannot store or access information (in the form of ‘cookies’) from a user without their consent being granted first.
The law was originally to take effect a year ago, but at the last minute British businesses were given a year’s grace to implement measures to address the issue. It finally came into effect on May 26.
The new law gives the Information Commissioner’s Office the power to fine companies up to £500,000 for breaches of privacy regulations.
Wycombe web design company MPS & BBI International Ltd, has been working with firms to help them take the necessary steps toward compliance. Earlier this week the business held a free advice seminar on the subject at its offices.
But a key problem, explained MD Andrew Libra, is what exactly are the necessary measures?
While some guidelines have been laid down by the ICO, they are open to some degree of interpretation.
Is it appropriate, for instance, to have a pop-up message appear at the front and centre of a website that a user must click on to acknowledge, or is a less intrusive message off to the side of the page acceptable?
Questions like these have not yet been fully resolved but the key to compliance, believes Mr Libra, is to have taken ‘reasonable steps’ toward it.
He said: “We have to let them (clients) make the decision. We are not legal experts. We can interpret – explain what this new law is about. But you can only give your opinion to the best of your knowledge on cookie law.”
He says while some firms have been quick to comply with the new law, others have adopted a ‘wait-and-see attitude’, content to see how the ICO will regulate the directive.
Mr Libra said: “The Government has to provide proper guidance to businesses. Failing to do so just creates uncertainty that businesses don’t like.”
But despite the confusion Mr Libra thinks businesses should ensure they take steps toward compliance – and not just bury their head in the sand in the hope the law won’t affect them.
He said: “I think that if a business is seen to be doing something, it’s a positive position to be in.
“From our point of view if someone wants to do something we can help them.”
Businesses have been told by the ICO that a swathe of enforcement action is not likely and there would be some flexibility and even help as firms become compliant.
Analysis from business consultancy KPMG earlier this month found that 80 per cent of major UK organisations across UK private and public sectors were still not compliant with the directive a week after it came into effect. Again, it said there was some confusion among businesses as to what was actually expected of them.
A statement from the ICO said clear ‘black and white’ guidleines may not be appropriate : “We’ve stressed that there’s no ‘one size fits all approach’. We think that organisations themselves are best placed to develop their own solutions. They will know how and why their customers use their websites better than we do.”
For more information go to www.bbi.co.uk or www.ico.gov.uk