Thursday, 31 January 2013

EU Cookie Disclaimers: A Review

In the wake of another confusing announcement by the ICO (the body responsible for information about cookie legislation in the UK) that they won't ask users for explicit consent to use cookies, perhaps it's time to take a look back at what effect the law has had in the last couple of years. Putting to one side the controversy surrounding the legislation itself, it is interesting to survey the way different sites have reacted, and the solutions they came up with.

The Giant Header

This approach has been adopted by the BBC. A big orange and grey banner pushes down the rest of the content with a big continue button. Because it is so enormous, it assumes you didn't miss it and dismisses itself on any subsequent pages

Channel 4 has gone for a very similar approach, this time in shiny silver. Annoyingly it insists on the close button being clicked, so continues to interrupt your viewing until you put the lawyers out of their misery. TFL does the same, presumably on the basis that TFL customers are already accustomed to inconvenience.

An enjoyable example is the aesthetic abberation atop the Unison website, where a gigantic purple banner greets you. At least they are kind enough to only show it once.

  • Technical Achievement: 6/10
  • Legal Paranoia: 8/10
  • User Friendliness: 4/10

The Animated Foldout

For some reason, some organisations opted to animate their legal notices. One can only imagine the bitter UX tears..

Channel 5 have gone for a thin banner which folds down. Given the advertising takeover graphics and the rest of the site, the jQuery animation isn't really up to the task of animating the banner down smoothly - on my PC at least - so it comes down in a distinctly jagged manner. It also neatly covers up prime real estate which probably annoys advertisers.

MoneySavingExpert perform a similar trick, but its so silky smooth you miss it when it isn't there. Nationwide are kind enough to wait a few seconds before showing the banner, and it politely dismisses itself after being viewed once.

  • Technical Achievement: 8/10
  • Legal Paranoia: 8/10
  • User Friendliness: 3/10

The Modal Model

The FT went all out and decided to present their cookie legalese in a modal dialog. It won't dissappear until you click the close button. The Church of England has gone for a similar idea, although as Christians they are merciful enough to show it once only.

When I first checked the Greenpeace site in December, they appeared not to use cookies so didn't need a disclaimer at all. As of January they have opted for the most elaborate modal dialog of all - a gigantic box with two accept buttons, a friendly cartoon and a blurred out background (alas an image; not some great feat of Canvas/WebGL).

  • Technical Achievement: 7/10
  • Legal Paranoia: 10/10
  • User Friendliness: 1/10

The Minimal Viable Product

The majority of commercial companies have, unsurprisingly, decided not to confront their users' initial experience with take-it-or-leave-it messages. Fortunately the legislation is delightfully vague when it comes to deciding how to present these disclaimers. Big companies whose lawyers took a look at the rules have generally judged a cookie notice in the footer to be perfectly adequate and entirely within the rules. Indeed most reputable sites published cookie information within the privacy section long before it became mandatory.

Sites with a simple static link in the footer include Debenhams, NatWest, Facebook, the pretty new,, and Halifax, Veolia and Tesco and M&S.
  • Technical Achievement: 1/10
  • Legal Paranoia: 2/10
  • User Friendliness: 10/10

The Bigger Picturers

Duchy Originals doesn't appear to publish a cookie policy - as least one that I could find - despite using Google Analytics. This is ironic, since they are the only organisation here which produces actual cookies. Never mind, the British public trusts Waitrose and Prince of Wales implicitly. Long live the King!
  • Technical Achievement: N/A
  • Legal Paranoia: 0/10
  • User Friendliness: 10/10

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