Feeds

ICO has yet to begin probing cookie violators

FOI request reveals privacy watchdog still not ready to deal with complaints

UPDATED According to a freedom of information (FOI) request submitted by PC Pro magazine, 320 websites have been reported to the privacy watchdog through its online submission tool since a year's 'grace period' ended on 26 May. However, none of those sites have been investigated.

"At present the information has not yet been analysed as the team which will have responsibility for this is not in place yet," the ICO told PC Pro. "It is intended that once the data has been analysed any organisations not in compliance will be identified, then further action will be considered as appropriate."

The watchdog has now hired employees to investigate allegations of cookie non-compliance, as well as other areas of the new Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations (PECR) including electronic marketing and unsolicited text messages, according to the report. It told the magazine that it expected the team to start work at the end of this month.

The ICO has rejected the claim and said it has already written to the 75 most-visited UK sites to enquire about their cookie law procedures.

"The ICO has been working to ensure compliance with the cookie law since it was introduced, with enforcement work complementing an education programme and significant liaison with the industry," said an ICO statement.

“The twelve-month grace period we gave companies to comply with the law ended in May 2012, at which point our enforcement team wrote to 75 of the most visited websites, asking what steps they had taken to achieve compliance," it said. "Our recently established intelligence hub is monitoring the 75 websites contacted."

“We have reviewed the 331 responses collected from our online cookie concern reporting tool and the next step is to write to all websites highlighted," it said. "A progress update, including a list of all the websites contacted, will be published on our website in November, six months after the cookie concern reporting tool was established.”

Cookies are small text files that record internet users' online activity. In 2009, the EU's Privacy and Electronic Communications (e-Privacy) Directive was changed to state that storing and accessing information on users' computers would only be lawful "on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his or her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information ... about the purposes of the processing". Consent must be "freely given, specific and informed". An exception exists where the cookie is "strictly necessary" for the provision of a service "explicitly requested" by the user – for example, to take the user of an online shop from a product page to a checkout.

Amendments to the PECR implemented the Directive into UK law last May. The ICO placed a year's grace on enforcement action in order to give website operators time to implement measures to comply with the new consent requirements, however that period has now passed. The ICO can issue fines of up to £500,000 to organisations whose websites do not comply with the PECR.

The ICO allows web users with "concerns about cookies" to report offending websites through an online reporting tool. However, it told PC Pro that sites reported using this tool would not necessarily be individually investigated. Submissions are "not being taking forward as individual complaints", it said; adding that the purpose of the form was to help it to "monitor organisations' adherence to the rule relating to cookies, and identify sectors where further advice or enforcement activity may be required".

Copyright © 2012, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Editor's note 23/8/12: The story was updated to include the ICO's response to the allegations.

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.