How to Ensure Website Cookie Compliance

Posted by

Matt Green

on 16 Jan 2024

Website cookies do more than stop GDPR fines. They create a better user experience and build trust. But they must be both effective and compliant.

website cookies

Cookie compliance refers to the process of ensuring that your website's use of cookies adheres to data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States. These regulations aim to protect user privacy by giving them control over how their data is collected and used.

Whilst many see cookies as a burden and a necessary evil to avoid fines and penalties, they can actually be good for business. By being transparent about your use of cookies and respecting users' privacy choices, you can build trust and loyalty with your audience. And by giving users control over their cookie preferences, you can improve their overall experience on your website.

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Key aspects of cookie compliance

A. Transparency

You must inform users that your website uses cookies and explain what cookies you use and why. This information should be easily accessible and presented clearly and concisely.

B. Consent

Users must be able to give their informed consent to using cookies. This means they should be able to choose which cookies they are willing to accept and which they want to reject. Consent should be freely given, not forced or coerced.

C. Choice

Users should have the ability to manage their cookie preferences easily. This includes the ability to withdraw their consent at any time and delete cookies already stored on their device.

D. Security

You must take appropriate measures to secure the data collected through cookies. This includes protecting the data from unauthorised access, disclosure, alteration, or destruction.

E. Record-keeping

You should keep records of your cookie consent practices, including the date and time users gave their consent and the specific cookies to which they consented.

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Cookie compliance checklist

The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) publicly disclosed a letter sent in November 2023 to the top 100 most-visited websites in the UK, notifying some organisations that their cookie banners might not comply with the current GDPR.

Effective cookie banners are pivotal in aligning organisations with crucial data protection regulations like the UK GDPR and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

In light of the ICO's involvement, we have created a cookie compliance checklist to help organisations address concerns with their cookie banners.

1. Transparent cookie policy

Users have the right to know how their data is collected and used. A transparent cookie policy builds trust and demonstrates respect for user privacy. Lack of transparency may result in user mistrust, damage to the organisation's reputation, and potential legal consequences.

To prevent this, clearly outline the types of cookies used, their purposes, and how users can manage their preferences within an organisation's cookie policies. Ensure the policy is easily accessible from the cookie banner.

2. Prioritise consent for non-essential cookies

Obtaining explicit consent is a fundamental requirement under GDPR. Prioritising consent for non-essential cookies ensures compliance with the law. Failure to prioritise consent may lead to unauthorised processing of personal data, violating user privacy and resulting in legal penalties.

Implement a two-step consent process where users can initially accept or reject non-essential cookies before being presented with essential ones and clearly explain the purpose of each cookie category.

3. Provide granular cookie controls

Users should have the ability to control the types of cookies they accept. Granular controls empower users to make informed choices about their privacy preferences. Limited user control may lead to frustration and potential non-compliance with GDPR principles of fairness and transparency.

Address this by including options for users to customise their cookie preferences, allowing them to enable or disable specific types of cookies based on their preferences.

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4. Ensure prominence of the 'reject all' option

The ability to reject cookies is a user right under GDPR. A clear and prominent 'Reject All' option respects a user's choice and privacy. Hiding or making the 'Reject All' option less prominent may lead to accusations of deceptive practices and non-compliance.

To eliminate this risk, design the cookie banner to make the "Reject All" option visible and easily accessible as the "Accept" option, ensuring equal prominence.

5. Dynamic cookie consent management

Cookie preferences may change over time, and users should be able to update their choices easily. The inability to manage cookie preferences may lead to frustration, reduced user engagement, and potential non-compliance with GDPR's data accuracy and user control principles.

Confront this by implementing a dynamic consent management system that allows users to revisit and modify their cookie preferences easily. Provide clear instructions on how to update preferences.

6. Regularly audit & update policies

Privacy regulations and cookie technologies evolve. Regular audits ensure ongoing compliance and alignment with the latest legal requirements. Outdated policies may result in unintentional violations, potential legal consequences, and reputational damage.

Ensure regular audits of your cookie policies and practices are conducted. Stay informed about updates to privacy regulations and update your cookie banner and policies accordingly. Communicate any changes transparently to users.

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