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New EU cookie law results in chaos and terrible jokes

Posted by: Laurence Simons 06/06/12

"Do you get it? Like the Cookie Monster. Ha, yeah. Seriously though, we're fining you £500,000."

"What's a cookie?" says the office joker, smoothing his novelty tie, sitting side-saddle on your desk. "Can I eat it?" he says with a laugh. Well, fire that man. Fire him hard. Throw all of his stuff out of the window.

Because despite the jokes, tough new cookie laws brought in to the UK this month have meant that businesses have had to adjust. The new EU legislation means that, as of May 26th, users have to consent to data being stored about them as they surf the web - you might have noticed a number of websites asking you politely if they watch while you do it, like Sting - but with the relative short notice of the legislation change, many companies have adopted the 'sticking plaster' approach of asking consumers if they carry on as-is with an all-encompassing cookie consent pop-up rather than plumping for one of the four new data types they are allowed to store. It's a solution, but not a long-term one.

Still, it's better than what 80 per cent of companies are doing, according to KPMG data. The tax advisory network quizzed an (admittedly small) sample of 55 clients as to whether they'd made any major changes or adjustments to accommodate the new law, and found that four in every five UK businesses were straight up ignoring the new regulations. It's barely an improvement on the 95 per cent who, in the month before the legislation was formally introduced, had done nothing to prepare for the EU directive, and with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) wielding the power to fine websites up to £500,000 for non-compliance, you'd think more businesses would get their sites up to spec.

"There is a sense of wait and see," KPMG chief Stephen Bonner told the Financial Times, after pausing and looking around. "We think that's terribly unwise. To be able to demonstrate you've thought about it and done something is reassuring to consumers and regulators. Our advice to clients is that with the regulator, the key thing is not to be the worst."

For legal firms, it means biting the bullet and paying an IT professional in ironic t-shirt to come in for a week, tinker with your website and get it done. But for technologically-minded lawyers, the avalanche of 'suddenly breaking EU legislation' clients could make for some interesting cases over the coming months as businesses pay the price for slow uptake of the so-called 'cookie law'.