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On May 26th 2011, a half-baked piece of EU legislation called the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 is going to become part of UK law. This means it will essentially become illegal for a website to set a cookie in your browser without your explicit consent.

Unfortunately, the only reliable way for a website to store visitor preferences is by setting a cookie. So if you don’t consent to these cookies, then every time you visit a website that uses them, you will be shown a message asking you to enable cookies in your browser. This message will most likely appear on every single page, and the nagging will not stop unless and until you give permission for the site to set cookies. You may even be completely denied access to some websites until cookies are enabled.

The legislators also seem to have overlooked the fact that it’s already possible for users to control the use of cookies within their own web browsers. If you need help with that, click the name of your browser in the list below:

The U.K. Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has vowed to go ahead and ensure that this law is enforced, but with just over two weeks to go until the deadline, his own website is still setting cookies without permission:

~ phil$ curl --head http://www.ico.gov.uk/
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Cache-Control: no-cache, no-store
Pragma: no-cache
Content‍-Length: 22898
Content‍-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Expires: -1
Server: Microsoft-IIS/7.5
X-AspNet-Version: 2.0.50727
Set-Cookie: ico62#sc_wede=1; path=/
Set-Cookie: ASP.NET_SessionId=jyszcua2f02nrz455i23ro45; path=/; HttpOnly
X-Powered-By: ASP.NET
Date: Tue, 10 May 2011 15:02:50 GMT

The ICO also uses the popular Google Analytics toolset to monitor traffic through their website. It’s no surprise really. About half of the web’s most popular sites also use Google Analytics. I’m using it on this website too. But it won’t work without cookies, so that’s another thing that will become illegal in a couple of weeks.

This website should work just fine without cookies (unless you want to comment on blog posts), so go ahead and disable them now if you like. I won’t nag you to turn them back on again. But after May 26th I might have to.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of Japan-related information in this post. Here’s an interesting thing: fortune cookies weren’t invented in China, as most people assume, but were actually invented in Japan.

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Header image: Maple leaves and bamboo stems in autumn at Tenryū-ji garden (天龍寺庭園) in Kyoto. Photo: Frank Gualtieri.

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