By Claire West

According to reports today, the Information Commissioners Office has seen a 90% decrease in visitors to its website following its implementation of the new European cookie law.

The EU’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive requires website owners to ‘explicitly obtain visitors’ consent’ before sending cookies to their machine and is aimed at protecting web users’ privacy. Under the directive, visitors will have to agree upfront to a website uploading cookies to their device - rather than the consent being hidden in terms and conditions as it has previously. The European Directive was introduced into law last month (26 May) but the UK government has given website operators a year to comply.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is responsible for enforcing the law.

Paul Vlissidis, technical director of NGS Secure, an NCC Group company, comments:

"The drop in traffic shows the lack of understanding on the part of the user about privacy issues and cookie usage and follows the Law of Unintended Consequences. It is likely that most users were unaware of downloading cookies or even what cookies do since many never read T&Cs. Now that it's being presented to them in a clear and present manner, they are being frightened away from using a site. While the industry was terrified that obtaining explicit consent upfront would reduce the user experience - in fact what's happening is that we're educating the user to be more cautious with their online interactions. This can only be a good thing in the long run. The industry needs to begin an open and honest dialogue with users aimed at educating them to what happens when they're online. It is likely that over time, users will become used to giving/refusing consent based on a correct understanding of what is in the cookies and traffic levels will once again increase. In the meantime educating users must be the priority.

"This is an excellent learning opportunity for online companies. While we've been urging companies to review their cookie use before the law is enforced, the industry is still unclear about how to obtain consent, without driving customers away. There is a job to be done here that should involve the browser industry, the website owner and the user themselves."