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Cookie compliance solution #2

Our interview with Richard Beaumont of the Cookie Collective

This is our second look at a technology solution to help marketers comply with the new "cookie law". This was the first - an interview about a cookie free analytics system.

The Cookie Collective have created a toolkit which can help site owners do a free cookie audit and place a consent message on the site giving information about cookies. This is how the consent message looks for the Cookie Collective script:

So, onto the questions, thanks to Richard for his clear responses.

Question 1. What solutions do you have to help marketers many compliance with the EU directive relating to cookies?

The Cookie Collective wanted to create a complete end to end service enabling any website to become compliant with the new law, and we have built a suite of products to achieve this.

The service is a browser plug-in that gathers anonymous data about cookies into our database. Since April we have collected cookies for over 80,000 websites. It can be used as an automated site audit tool, as the results of its activity are made easily available to website owners through a domain search on our site.

On top of this database we have built a software-as-a-service solution that can take this cookie data and make a website compliant. Our Cookie Manager allows us (and soon any client) to organise the cookies for a site into meaningful categories, and write some explanatory text about what the cookies do in each category.

With a simple script that can be quickly inserted into the code for almost any website, the service delivers a ‘Consent Request Message’ to the site visitor, and allows them to indicate their consent for the use of cookies on that site. It also blocks cookies until consent has been given, then once the visitor has allowed cookies on the site, the message disappears.

The content of the message is delivered through a cloud based server infrastructure, which makes it both scalable for any size of web site, and very simple to set up. It means that if you want to change the message on your site – it can be done very quickly by someone in marketing or compliance, and published straight to the site, without the need to rely on the IT department.

This is important because it can be easily adapted as best practice and guidance on compliance evolves. And by using a cloud based service, we can further upgrade functionality for customers without having to go through new installations on their sites.

Question 2. We can see the script in action on your site. How many sites are using this so far?

One of the issues with the grace period offered by the ICO is that many websites see May 26 2012 at the deadline to ‘launch’ cookie consent on their live sites. Some commentators have suggested that because we haven’t seen solutions appear on major websites, that this is an indication that nobody is really taking this law seriously.

We don’t see this at all. Many businesses are coming to us now and are putting it on staging and test copies of their websites. We anticipate that from the New Year, and as we approach the deadline, more and more sites will go public, but there will be lots of changes put off until May.

We are building a number of new websites for clients that will incorporate it early in the New Year, and are also in talks with a number of potential distribution partners. We believe that from January onwards, a lot of sites will start asking for visitor consent for cookies – and we anticipate that a good proportion will be using our solution.

Question 3. What about the consumer response - do most consumers ignore it meaning tracking is lost for the majority as with the ICO opt-in to analytics data?

I think it is too early to predict a typical consumer response right now. We are going to go through a transition phase when people will be nervous because they are being told about something unfamiliar, but over time, as more sites become compliant, it will become more normal to be asked for consent. Only then can we start to talk about how consumers are reacting.

This is also a real opportunity for marketers to bring their creativity to this law. Our belief is that as consumers become more aware of their rights and use of cookies to collect data, they will be looking for a re-balancing of the relationships they have with businesses and brands online. Consumers need the web economy to work as much as anybody else. However they are going to become more focussed on engaging with brands that are transparent about what they do, and offer them benefits in return for tracking.

Those brands that recognise this and set out to actively engage their customers in making this bargain – will be the ones who benefit the most. We anticipate working with marketing professionals to work out different ways our solutions can be incorporated into websites to meet the needs of all parties.

We are also looking to market test some ideas of our own, and will use what we learn to feed back to our customers looking to get the best results.

Question 4. How can the script be integrated with different types of content management platform - isn't it difficult to stop web services like Google Analytics and the CMS or commerce system placing a cookie when the first page is loaded on a visit - so it's not really providing opt-in.

In many ways, a site that uses a content management system is easier to work with. They have standard page templates where our script can easily be embedded so that it shows up on all pages. Google Analytics is relatively straightforward to block. Cookies generated on the server by the CMS are not so easy, but they are also more likely to be the ‘strictly necessary’ cookies that are exempted from the need for consent.

The ICO themselves don’t expect people to get this perfect straight away, but what they do expect is for them to try. One of the key messages from their latest guidance was – if you can demonstrate that you are trying to comply, then this is enough right now. Those organisations who have done nothing are the ones they are likely to focus on the most with enforcement.

We have talked to the ICO and they are familiar with our offering. Whilst they have clearly said they are not endorsing any individual solution, sites can be pretty confident that if they are using our script on their site – the ICO will know that something is being done for that site, and they are much less likely to come knocking.

Question 5. What other FAQ are you getting from marketers/businesses looking to use your solution - and how do you reply?

We get a lot of questions about whether hosting outside the EU will get round the law (it won’t), and whether this will apply to non-EU companies doing business over here (yes, although the ability to enforce it may be limited).

Larger businesses are also concerned about the differences in the implementation in different EU states. It is true that different countries have implemented the rules slightly differently, and this will likely result in different user experiences. However, many European states are reported to be looking at the UK and seeking to learn from what it happening here.

Our product has been written in a way that we anticipate being able to roll out for different markets, with perhaps only minor changes.

The implementation of this law is still very much an emerging landscape, a situation that will continue to persist throughout 2012 and likely beyond. The response required by this law involves a mix of marketing and technical expertise, and the ability to adapt quickly.

Our solution will keep a website legal. But it enables marketers to use their creativity, as they do elsewhere, to engage with their customers in this important change, and use the opportunity to crete new levels of trust and transparency.

By Dave Chaffey

Dave is CEO and co-founder of Smart Insights. He is editor of the 100 templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ Digital Marketing experts. Our resources used by our Expert members in more than 80 countries to Map, Plan and Manage their digital marketing. For my full profile, or to connect on LinkedIn or other social networks, see the About Dave Chaffey profile page on Smart Insights. Dave is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Emarketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing.

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