Websites applying opt-in consent mechanisms to comply with the EU E-privacy directive will have a hard time convincing users to accept cookies, as just 23% of respondents said they would be happy to say yes to cookies. 

One major issue with this directive is public awareness of what cookies are and what they do. Suddenly, web users will be seeing messages about cookies all over the place, accompanied with references to tracking, privacy etc. 

There is a need for education about cookies and online privacy in general, but that very process may be a turn off for many users. 

To gauge possible public reaction to the implementation of cookie compliance measures, we conducted an online survey, using the Toluna Quick survey tool. 

The survey accompanies the launch of our new report, The EU Cookie Law: A guide to compliance, which looks at how businesses can adapt to the directive. 

The results suggest that businesses have a lot of persuading to do in order to convey the benefits of the cookies they use on their websites, and to persuade users to opt-in, or at least not to opt-out. 

A note on the survey methodology

We asked 1,600 online respondents about their attitudes towards cookies and privacy, using the Toluna Quick survey tool. 

The survey was conducted online and therefore skews slightly towards regular web users rather than occasional online shoppers. 

In addition, only those respondents that said they know what a cookie is were asked the subsequent questions. This means that 1,067 respondents answered subsequent questions. 

Consumer awareness of cookies

That 69% of survey respondents are aware of what cookies are and why websites use them may cheer some marketers, but it still leaves a large chunk of web users that may react with puzzlement when they see messages about cookies and privacy on the website they visit. 

Also, as mentioned before, the survey was conducted online, and it can be assumed that respondents are slightly more web-savvy.

Do you know what an online cookie is and why websites use them?

Web users and cookie management

Do you regularly manage your cookie settings via your internet browser?

73% of respondents regularly manage their cookie settings using their browser, which is a surprisingly high number. 

This may mean that they are less likely to say yes to certain types of cookie, but also suggests that, if they aware of these browser functions, then consent mechanisms are unnecessary, at least for this portion of web users.

Will web users say yes to cookies? 

This is a big question for online businesses. If they are forced to apply consent mechanisms, then they would hope that they can persuade users to accept cookies. 

If a website asks for your permission to set cookies when you visit, would you be happy to say yes?

Only 23% are happy to say yes, while the 60% of maybes will need some convincing. Some 17% seem certain that they will not accept cookies at all. 

What would make users say no to cookies? 

From the answers we recieved, the decision to accept cookies or not will depend on the website asking the question. People are more likely to say yes on a website they know, giving well known brands an advantage over smaller sites. 

If stricter consent mechanisms are used, then trust will become a key factor. 

In addition 40% of respondents think cookies are bad for the web. This suggests that, for many people, they are associated with tracking, targeting and so on.

Are some cookies easier to sell to consumers than others? 

There are, of course, different types of cookies and it is likely to be easier to get user consent for some than others. 

What kinds of cookies would you be happy to consent to?

The kinds of cookies that most will accept are those that save shopping cart contents (60%), but analytics cookies (even when sold as helping to improve the experience) are only approved by 35%. 

The results suggest that cookies used for advertising purposes are going to be hard sell for websites. Over a fifth (21%) would be okay with cookies used to serve more relevant ads, but just 17% would approve of cookies used for targeting on third-party sites.

Cookie consent and user experience

If saying no to cookies means the website is not as easy to use, or parts of the site didn't work as normal, would you:

A big part of the problem is that users don’t necessarily understand why cookies are so vital for online business. 

Just 26% say they would decide to consent to cookies if saying no meant a website was less usable, while 24% said they would soldier on, though this may change when they actually experience cookie-free websites. 

If 50% of web users do abandon the site due to a poorer web experience in the absence of cookies, then businesses will be hoping that their competitors have also implemented similar opt-in mechanisms.

Consumer concerns about online privacy

The aim of the EU Directive was to address real concerns about online privacy and the results of the survey suggest that the majority of web users share these concerns, with 77% saying they are concerned about privacy when browsing and buying online. 

Are you concerned about your privacy when browsing and buying online?

This answer raises a couple of questions: 

Who are these care-free people who have no concern about their privacy online? The data suggests that the 18 to 34 age group is the least concerned, but 72% still answered yes to this question. 

Are respondents bundling in concerns about fraud, malware and so on with concerns about how their data is used by the websites they visit? If so, then the answer may well be better education on how cookies are used.

The EU Cookie Law: A guide to compliance explains the legislation as far as it affects UK online businesses, sets out some practical steps that you can take towards compliance, as well as showing some practical examples of how websites can gain users’ consent for setting cookies.

Image credit: infoCarnivore

Graham Charlton

Published 18 April, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (14)

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Paul Bedwell

Sadly users don't understand the breadth of cookie usage. Yes, there are ones that invade your privacy but others that genuinely compliment your browsing experience and improve user journeys on websites.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

Hi Paul. Yes, there is an issue here. The answers to the open-ended questions in the survey suggests that cookies = intrusive in the minds of many respondents.

The debate on this recent Guardian cookie article suggests the same:

There is much education to be done, and that is partly the fault of websites doing very little to inform customers before now.

over 6 years ago


Guy Redwood

We have to be careful with this data.

'73% of respondents regularly manage their cookie settings using their browser'.

I don't buy it.

That's 3 in 4 people.

Maybe people that participate in online panels are very familiar with managing cookies?

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@ Guy The fact that it is an online survey does mean it skews more towards the web-savvy.

Also, only those that answered yes to the 'do you know what an online cookie is?' question were asked about using browser settings for cookie management.

1,593 answered the cookie knowledge question, and 1,097 answered the browser/cookie Q.

So, it isn't 3 in 4 people, it's probably more like just under a half of respondents to this survey.

over 6 years ago


Adi Gaskell

As I can't imagine analytics counts as fundamental to the operation/functionality of a site, I wonder how this will impact on the analytics industry?

Could see a big shift away from Google and other client side trackers and towards more server side providers.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@Adi No, analytics cookies aren't classed as necessary so there is a problem here.

That said, it will be easier to get opt-in for analytics cookies than those related to ads and targeting.

over 6 years ago


Iain Buchanan

Ironically, the survey would not have worked if cookies were disabled.

over 6 years ago


Mr Zen

Very poor legislation indeed which will do little to protect people's privacy and which will cost the millions across Europe to implement.

Some one who understands the stateless nature of websites and the difference between expiring session cookies and tracking cookies should have been present when this was conceived. I fear it is too late for a petition?? Who is lobbying against the law??

In addition, surely this should have been the responsibility of the 6 or 7 browser producers rather than the millions of websites that will need to come up with differing ways of complying with the law which will just add to people's confusion.

The survey above 69% of people said they understood what a cookie was, which is very surprising - most of the visitors to the sites we produce don't know what a browser is!

over 6 years ago

John Kimbell

John Kimbell, Managing Partner at Navigate Digital

Perhaps we just need to back to basics here - why should (or would) people who don't work in our industry understand what a 'cookie' is? Perhaps if an effort was made to give them a more appropriate name it might help. This is compounded by the fact that every article that is written about the legislation carries a picture of an edible cookie or a 'humorous' cartoon - hardly conducive to helping people better understand what is a complex issue, even for the most tech savvy amongst us.

over 6 years ago


Chris Baker

The problem is passing the "What's In It For Me" (Wii-FM !)test - if the customer can't quickly figure why to say Yes to cookies, then they say No. Better safe than sorry.

I think that one factor is going to be when customers are asked about cookies - immediately they arrive at the site is a bad time. A little later, once they've figured our Wii-FM, might be better.

This is the same argument that I've seen for Apps that ask you to authorize push notification the moment you install them- it's the wrong point in the workflow to do that (as argued here by Jakob Nielsen: )

over 6 years ago


Martin Sloan

The findings of the survey confirm suspicions that most users don't really understand how cookies are used. And, as one of the commentators points out above, that's amongst a sample that is likely to be more technically aware than the average user.

But that's not the fault of users - the industry needs to be more transparent and provide better information. It can't blame users for their lack of understanding.

Current browser controls are woefully inadequate as they do not provide users with sufficient information or control to determine which cookies on a specific website the user may or may not wish to accept. This has meant that most users are unaware that cookies are being deployed, and have little idea how they are being used. This in turn has driven (in many cases, unfounded) suspicion over the use of cookies as a consequence of things like behavioural advertising and tracking of users.

Whilst I agree that the legislation has been poorly executed, and the absence of clear guidance is making life very difficult for organisations that use cookies and similar things on their websites (particularly those that operate in multiple countries throughout Europe), I think this survey does confirm that the principles behind the new legislation (improved transaparency and information for users) show that the Commission was correct to take action in this area.

If these aims can be achieved through improved consent mechanisms then users are far more likely to be able to make an informed decision on whether or not to accept cookies.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@MrZen It is, alas, too late for that. The hope is that the ICO understands the concerns of business and won't enforce the regulations too strictly.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@John There is a serious education problem here. The survey found that 40% thought cookies were bad for the web, suggesting that issues like privacy, fraud, tracking etc are all bundled together with cookies in some people's minds.

I'm as guilty as anyone for biscuit pictures, though I have at least avoided it with this post...

over 6 years ago

Mark Chapman

Mark Chapman, Director at the eConsultant

So much taxpayers money wasted rolling out a law that makes the web worse. I agree with @MrZen.

It's never too late... never say never.

This is a stupid law that at a difficult economic time will cause many financial expense trying to implement.

It is important people can be confident and have trust using the Internet but the new cookie regulations are bureaucratic overkill, bureaucracy gone mad, the law is an ass etc, threatening to more harm the Web, not help.

Why didn't the EU first seek to encourage the digital industry self-regulates? It feels like a dictator-ship - and as I've said before: it's a paranoid reaction to 99.99% of cookies which are innocuous.

The EU is casting the digital industry as criminals in the first instance. That is wrong.

Iirrational fears have taken root in EU land that cookies are an evil force doing wicked things on PCs. Paranoid.

over 6 years ago

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