All posts tagged Politics

  • Understanding Cookie Law

    On 27th May 2012 the UK’s implementation of the EU’s “Cookie Law” will come in force. My own personal opinion aside, I wanted to take the time to actually read and digest the UK’s interpretation of this EU directive and summarise what it means for users and web developers.

    The reason why we have this law

    Studies suggest that the majority of internet users don’t know what cookies are and what information can be accessed by certain websites. This raises obvious privacy concerns.

    The target of this law is to try and prevent or dissuade website owners and content producers from collecting unnecessary information. The main target of this law appears to be third-party cookies, those that are often set by advertising networks to track a user’s global site preferences while browsing. This law makes it very difficult for them to ask for consent.

    What the law actually states

    The law is based on a privacy-based EC Directive from 2002, which was later amended in 2009 to require consent for the storage or access of information on a user’s device (a cookie). The UK implemented this change on the 25th May 2011, but delayed the compliance date by one year. It’s the Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO) job in the UK to inform us, the public, of changes to the law and what is required of us. 

    The law is pretty clear. Websites of individuals and businesses based in the EU must comply, regardless of the where the web host is located or where the website’s visitors are accessing the site from.

    Websites have to:

    • Tell users there are cookies on the site
    • Explain why you have cookies
    • Get the user’s consent to store a cookie on their device

    For example, this blog would be required to tell the user that a cookie will be saved on their device, which anonymously tracks user interactions on this site (Google Analytics). This site would then need to ask the user for consent to store these cookies.

    According to the ICO’s guidance, the user’s consent should be required before you set any cookies. In practice, however, the ICO recognises that most websites load cookies as soon as the site loads. In such cases, site owners should do whatever possible to inform the user as soon as possible that cookies are present and explain clearly what the cookies are for. As implementation becomes universal in the future, expect consent to become Opt-In only.

    Who needs to comply with the law?

    The law will apply to all website owners within the EU. This not only includes organisations and business, but individuals with blogs and private websites. Any site that sets a cookie, where the owner of the site is based within in the EU, regardless of where the site is hosted, must obtain consent.

    Like every law, there are exceptions (hooray!):

    • Cookies used to remember goods when they proceed to a checkout
    • Cookies that comply with stricter security principles, such as online banking
    • Cookies that help distribute workload across numerous computers (e.g. Amazon EC2)

    As the majority of websites use tools such as Google Analytics, pretty much everyone will need to think about implementing this.

    How to comply with the new law

    Fortunately for those in the know, satisfying the new law can be achieved by a small script. Unfortunately for those who don’t know anything about front-end web development may find it a bit moredifficult. Here’s two tools than can help:

    If you want to fully comply with the law however, you will need to prevent all cookies being stored until the user has agreed. As a cookie is actually required to remember a user’s choice, users that decline to accept cookies will be informed and asked the same question each time they access the site.

    The above tools will likely put you in good stead with the ICO for the foreseeable future, but when Opt-In is fully enforced, you should be preventing cookies altogether until the user agrees.

    Other Useful reading

  • The best thing the Tories have done for me

    Everyone loves to hate the Tories. At least that’s how’s it been within my lifetime. Since coming to power in May 2010 most of us have been following what seems to be a constant juggling match with our most prized possessions: education, health, financial services (and, for a moment there, even our forests…). But I can’t say I disagree with everything they’ve done.

    I’m a strong believer the UK needs a better “starting-up” scene. Notice I don’t use the term “startup”, which, in my opinion, has been taken over by the tech industry to mean fast-moving, insanely funded business ideas that appear to fizzle out as quickly as they begin. The UK needs people starting up companies not just in tech, but also in one of the many other industries out there. When I talk about a better starting-up scene, I mean a more approachable environment in which people are encouraged to start up their own companies. To realise their own ideas.

    One of the best things the tories have done came just one month after taking office during the June 2010 Emergency Budget.  George Osborne took the stage to announce several corporation and PAYE tax reforms, skip to 9minutes 50 seconds to hear it:

    The National Insurance Holiday scheme exempts all new companies outside of London from paying employer’s national insurance contributions for up to £5000 per employee (max. 10 employees). This isn’t something to be sneered at. Unless you are paying yourself and your employees over £43k a year, in which case you can probably afford the NIC contributions, this is going to save your company £5000 a year per employee. Even if you pay over £43k, you can claim the £5000 in contributions.

    Let’s take the average annual salary for a person in Rhondda Cynon Taf, a county in desperate need of innovation and new businesses (source).

    Average Annual Salary (Gross): ~ £25555

    Monthly Salary (Gross): ~ £2130

    Employee Income Tax: ~ £300

    Employee NIC: ~ £185

    Monthly Salary (Net): ~ £1650

    Employer NIC: ~ £215

    For a new Ltd company with two employees earning an average wage, that’s a saving of £430 a month in tax, £5160 a year (£5000 recoverable). Pretty helpful. This money can be spent on other costs a company has or even as savings to make a more stable business. It even makes taking on new part-time and full-time employees more attractive.

    I’m not paying myself anywhere near £43000, but the National Insurance Holiday scheme has meant that I can pay myself around £150 more a month because my company has it in the pot. All I can say is Thank You, George.

    One more thing…

    I should add that there is one more thing I would like to see more than anything else in the UK. It was also touched upon during the budget but hasn’t yet successfully made it nationwide: The New Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

    Germany has a similar scheme where unemployed individuals who are eligible for benefits (have to have worked and paid taxes for two years in a row), get Jobseekers Allowance (“dole”) for the first year of starting up their own company. I want this in the UK. It needs to be easy to access, guaranteed and available to all. It needs to be advertised too, not just some little backdoor thing politicians can use to claim they are “trying hard”.