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New rules on electronic marketing and cookies

From 26 May 2011, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, covering electronic marketing such as emails, faxes and text messages, will change. They include changes to the rules for cookies on websites, and introduce new powers for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to impose fines and to investigate when the law may have been broken.

Download the ICO's press release from the ICO website (PDF, 34K) - Opens in a new window.

Many of the changes relate to the use of cookies on websites. A cookie is a small file of letters and numbers downloaded on to a device when the user accesses certain websites. Cookies allow a website to recognise a user's device. The Regulations also apply to similar technologies for storing information. This could include, for example, Locally Stored Objects (commonly referred to as 'Flash Cookies').

The previous rule on using cookies for storing information was that you had to tell people how you used cookies, and tell them how they could 'opt out' if they objected. Many websites did this by putting information about cookies in their privacy policies and giving people the possibility of 'opting out'.

The new requirement is essentially that cookies can only be placed on machines where the user or subscriber has given their consent.

The rules are changing because the European Directive on which the Regulations are based has been revised. UK law has to change to implement that changed Directive.

For more on how this could affect your business, please see our guidance on: