What is a cookie?

A cookie is a simple text file that gets downloaded onto your computer when you visit a website. They generally contain two bits of information: a site name and a unique user ID. Once the cookie is on your computer, the site ‘knows’ that you have been there before and can then use that knowledge to tailor the experience that you have, unless they are removed. Most commercial websites use them.

What are cookies used for?

Cookies have many different functions including auto-filling forms, counting and identifying visitors, storing shopping basket items, personalising content, targeting advertising, recording user preferences and for authentication and security, etc.

How many cookies do sites drop?

According to a study by Trust-e, the average UK website has 14 cookies per page. About a third of these come from the website owner and two thirds from third party companies, which could be analytics companies or companies that deliver or trade in advertising.

So what is an "essential" cookie?

The wording in the directive is broad, but the regulations specify that if cookies are necessary for carrying out or facilitating the transmission of a communication or is "strictly necessary" for providing an "information society service" requested by the user. Cookies likely to be deemed essential are those used for the shopping basket and checkout, those that provide security for online banking services and those that help ensure that your page loads quickly by distributing the workload.

The law does not, however, allow websites to hold customers to ransom.

What is a non-essential cookie?

Any cookies used for analytical purposes to count the number of visitors to a website, any cookies used by first party or third party advertisers, including affiliates, and cookies used to recognise the user when they return to a website so they receive a tailored greeting or optimised landing page. These are the cookies being targeted by the new EU legislation.

Back to the Cookie Law