The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is cracking down on the way websites handle cookie consent, demanding that the process for opting out should be as straightforward as opting in. The focus is on advertising cookies, and while users will encounter ads regardless of their choice, rejecting these cookies should prevent the ads from being personalized based on their browsing habits. Despite previous guidance, some websites have been found lacking in providing clear choices for tracking and personalized advertising, which the ICO aims to rectify.
Recently, the ICO has increased its oversight and issued a 30-day ultimatum to many of the UK’s top-visited websites to align with data protection regulations or face potential enforcement actions. Stephen Almond, ICO’s executive director of Regulatory Risk, emphasized the importance of user consent in targeted advertising and warned that non-compliant companies need to make necessary changes or prepare to face financial penalties. These could be substantial, with fines reaching up to €20.5 million or 4 percent of the company’s global annual turnover from the previous financial year—whichever is greater.
The ICO has specifically pointed out cookie consent banners as an area of concern, with many falling into the category of ‘harmful design.’ The guidance is clear: banners should allow users to easily reject non-essential cookies and make informed decisions about their personal information and its use in profiling for targeted ads. The ICO had previously announced its intention to review the cookie banners of the UK’s most frequented websites, ready to take action against those employing deceptive designs.
Cookie consent continues to be a significant issue in both the UK and the EU. The EU has a clear stance, offering users a straightforward choice regarding cookies—yes or no. The ICO expects a similar level of clarity. However, there was some confusion introduced in 2022 with the UK considering an opt-out system for cookies, potentially complicating the matter further.