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UK websites: No one bothers with cookie law, why should we?

Fewer than 1 in 5 sites have complied so far – KPMG

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Many website operators have responded to the Information Commissioner's last-minute watered-down tweak to implementing the European Union's cookie law by doing absolutely nothing to show that they have complied with the legislation.

That's the damning verdict from consultancy outfit KPMG, which looked at 55 UK websites to see how many of them had implemented the cookie law measures, after the year-long deferred deadline imposed by the ICO passed on 26 May.

At the eleventh hour, Blighty's UK watchdog said that "implied consent" was a "valid form of consent" for operators to use to comply with the law.

Companies that fail to comply to the legislation could face up £500,000 in penalties. However, the ICO indicated late last month that it would take a gentle approach to enforcement and pointed out that very few sites would be slapped with a hefty fine for non-compliance.

There's also been a lot of confusion among website operators about the cookie law that was implemented on 25 May 2011 in Brussels but heavily ignored by many member states on that date.

Now, according to KPMG's report, owners of 45 out of 55 websites in the UK scrutinised by the audit firm have responded by doing absolutely nothing about the ePrivacy directive.

About the 10 sites that did comply, KPMG noted: "The majority of these 10 websites also only follow the approach of 'implied consent' which assumes that users accept the use of cookies unless they change their browsers’ settings."

In its report, KPMG failed to point out that the ICO had accepted "implied consent" as a valid form of complying with the law, however.

The company, which has its own explanation of what it does with user data here, found that – since undertaking initial analysis back in March this year – 40 per cent of websites had updated or added new policies detailing how they use cookies, which KPMG argued was "not enough for full compliance".

A further 40 per cent of the sites had not implemented any of the measures since KPMG previously scrutinised them earlier this year.

"In addition, no organisation had implemented measures for their mobile websites. Compliance in most cases refers to the main web presence, whereas secondary sites are typically non-compliant," KPMG added.

The Register asked the ICO to respond to this story, it gave us this statement:

We are conscious that many websites are still developing solutions to become compliant with the new rules and this survey shows that, for many UK organisations, there is still some way to go.

We gave UK websites a year long lead in period to comply with the new changes and we expect organisations to have used this time productively. Now that the lead in period has expired, organisations should have robust and effective plans in place to comply with the new changes. This means making sure visitors to their website are given clear information and the necessary options to control the placement of cookies.

We have written out to many of the leading organisations within the UK to explain the importance of complying with the new changes. We have also setup a reporting tool on our website which members of the public can use if they are concerned about a website's use of cookies. These steps will help us to monitor compliance.

Where it is clear that an organisation is failing to be open and upfront with users about how cookies are used on its website and has no plans in place to comply with the new changes, we will consider taking formal enforcement action.

It added that a copy of the missive sent out to some website operators can be viewed here [PDF]. ®

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