Key questions

  • How can cookies help a website owner and their visitors?
  • What are the dangers of using cookies?
  • What legislation covers the use of cookies and what does a website owner need to do to comply with the regulations?


What are cookies?

Researched and collated by Georgia A

In simple terms, cookies are just files that reside on your computer.

Cookies are created when you visit a website.

They are used to store bits of information about your interactions with the website, which the web server can use later when processing your sessions.


Cookies are used in many different ways, and many of them make the web experience much better. However, most of this can be summed up on one word – personalisation.

The online store Amazon is a great example of this. The more you use the site, the more Amazon understands what kind of products you search for and buy. This allows it to make recommendations of products you might like – which could help prevent extensive searching in such a big store.

If you have bought from Amazon and don’t actively sign out from your account, it will remember you when you return – greeting you by name even. It also remembers any items you have put in your shopping basket but not purchased – making it quicker to go through the checkout.

Of course they are doing it for their own benefit as well – all of this increases their sales, but it does benefit users.

In fact online shopping would not be possible without cookies. If we didn’t have cookies, you could not effectively login to a website. Instead you would have to tell it who you are every time you went to a new page, which would be extremely tedious.

Cookies can personalise a website in all sorts of other ways as well – without having to be about shopping. For example, they can be used to remember a user prefers a larger font size than normal. A news website might remember that you like certain types of stories and promote them to the home page.


Cookies are designed to track users and so there are a number of privacy concerns.

  • Cookies can be used to target users with advertisements that are tailored to their browsing tastes.
  • Companies could also sell this information on to third parties. Whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be abused and used to take advantage or trick users.
  • Cookies are another part of the general shift towards online life which has largely stripped individuals of their right to a private life.

The UK Cookie Law

 The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 law (Better known as The Cookie Law) states that a website must explicitly inform a website user that cookies are being used on their computer, however this may take the form of implied consent.

Implied consent means that as long as a website tells the user that the site uses cookies, it is implied that permission has been given and therefore the site is in compliance with the law.


The maximum punishment for failure to comply with The Cookie Law is a £500,000 fine, however in reality what normally happens if a non-compliance complaint is received, is that a website is notified that they are failing to comply and they are then told that they have a certain amount of time to comply with the requirement. As far as Mr West can find, no one so far been prosecuted for failure to comply with the law in the 3 years since it has been in force.


Cookies – Key questions

What are cookies?

  • Session cookies
  • Tracking cookies

How do cookies work?

How can they be used by the photographers to personalise the website?

What laws apply?  What must the photographers do?

Revise by practicing these exam questions. Email your answers to your teacher for feedback.

  • Name and describe the legislation that covers the use of cookies.
  • What steps does a website owner need to follow in order to comply with the current legislation?
  • Name 3 common uses for cookies on websites