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An affiliate introduction to the European Cookie Law

by Dave Tinneny | 29.03.2012
The 26th of May… put a reminder in your calendar now, because the world of affiliates will get extremely interesting from that date onwards.

Why? Well the good folks at the EU have decided to implement a new law governing the use of cookies and the 26th of May is when it comes into force.

You eat cookies right? Well no, cookies are the mysterious tech magic that allows the whole affiliate industry to function. ‘A cookie is used for an origin website to send state information to a user’s browser and for the browser to return the state information to the origin site’ (thanks Wikipedia! My donation’s in the post…) Cookies are responsible for tracking sales on almost every affiliate network, so any change to them, is a change in the very fabric of the industry. The cookie tracks the user’s behaviour on a site (sales, basket quantities, page bounce rates, etc.) and feeds the information back to us industry types for any number of reasons, most of which are sales related.

Why does ‘the man’ care about internet cookies? Well, it’s not just the big guys in Europe. Online privacy is one of those perennial topics that won’t be going away any time soon. Remember that old paranoid saying about Facebook, ‘if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product’? People are becoming more and more concerned about how their online behaviour is tracked, recorded, exploited and manipulated. Unfortunately for affiliates, cookies that track sales also fall into this category. The new revised ePrivacy law is hoping to protect ordinary decent internet enthusiasts further, from malicious and creepy tech nerds who might be using those tracking cookies for any number of dubious activities.

But seriously, what does that have to do with me? Well, that all depends… Unfortunately, those same well meaning European guys, while trying to protect people, have made things extremely awkward for normal businesses to conduct their online affairs. If you are a publisher, a merchant, a network, or anything in between, then it won’t do you any harm to know about this stuff. What it ultimately boils down to, is that if you rely on this information, then in future people must agree to share it.

So what should I do? Read? Pray? Sacrifice a small goat?!! Nope… nothing that dramatic. Thankfully the IAB have prepared some sound advice which you can find here. It includes tips on conducting a cookie audit and guidelines to improve transparency. Do yourself a favour and figure out how this will apply to you.

What’s everyone else doing? That… is a very good question. There has been surprisingly little written about this so far. A4U had a useful post here a while ago, but very few official bodies are commenting on it yet or issuing official guidelines. I suspect that many are unsure how to proceed and are waiting for further clarification. As this is a new Law, giving poor advice can sometimes be worse than doing nothing, which is why everything will be infinitely more interesting once this new law will have to be enforced. For an idea of how important it is, even analytics will be affected…

Don’t worry though, we’ll keep you updated with any new developments as and when they happen…