Milton Keynes insurers warn website owners over new cookie laws

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BUSINESSES face fines of up to £500,000 if they fail to meet tough new website privacy laws, says an insurance company in Milton Keynes.

Regulations concerning websites come into effect in May and will mean visitors will have to give their consent for sites to download ‘cookies’ - temporary internet files activated when a user accesses certain websites and which gather information about the user’s online activity.

Mike Livings, regional director at Bluefin, based in Witan Court, Upper Fourth Street, said: “Any business which runs a website will use cookies in some form, so this change will have a widespread affect and companies need to be prepared for the new law. Until now the responsibility for allowing the sharing of personal data lay with the web visitor, however the onus is now on the website proprietor to ensure its customers understand that this information will be downloaded by the website.”

The insurer says new insurance packages are being drawn up to help businesses deal with the risk of fines and compensation, and the fear of reputational damage.

The new rules apply to every type of cookie except those strictly necessary for a service requested by the user, for example, when a visitor has selected goods to buy and then clicks ‘Add to basket’.

Mr Livings added: “Businesses need to carefully consider how they will implement the new regulations as there is a risk that obtaining these consents will become cumbersome to the web visitor and they may leave the site completely. Businesses need to weigh up the value of gaining certain information from a user against adversely affecting the visitor’s experience.”

Currently most businesses have a tick box system in their privacy policy allowing web visitors to opt out of having cookies downloaded onto their computers, in line with current legal requirements. However, as of next month, website operators will have to provide much more information to allow visitors to make their own decision or risk a fine.

Businesses were given 12 months by the Information Commissioner to implement the changes, the deadline for which is May 1.

Tips for businesses on implementing the new rules:

> Review all cookies in use on your website and consider removing those that are unnecessary.

> Identify which cookies need consent and which don’t. Refer to the Information Commissioner’s Office on this. http://www.ico.gov.uk/news/current_topics/new_pecr_rules.aspx

> Ensure you display information clearly on your website explaining what cookies are and what information will be taken.

> Where consents are necessary, consider the least intrusive method for doing this. For example one approach could be to use pop-ups, terms and conditions, website settings or website features are other options.