The way websites track visitors and tailor ads to their behaviour is about to undergo a big shake-up.

From 25 May, European laws dictate that "explicit consent" must be gathered from web users who are being tracked via text files called "cookies".

These files are widely used to help users navigate faster around sites they visit regularly.

Businesses are being urged to sort out how they get consent so they can keep on using cookies.

The changes are demanded by the European e-Privacy directive which comes into force in the UK in late May.

The section of the directive dealing with cookies was drawn up in an attempt to protect privacy and, in particular, limit how much use could be made of behavioural advertising.

This form of marketing involves people being tracked across websites, with their behaviour used to create a profile that dictates the type of adverts they see.

As part of its work to comply with the directive, the IAB - an industry body that represents web ad firms - created a site that explains how behavioural advertising works and lets people opt out of it.

The directive demands that users be fully informed about the information being stored in cookies and told why they see particular adverts.

Specifically excluded by the directive are cookies that log what people have put in online shopping baskets.

However, the directive is likely to have an impact on the more general use of cookies that remember login details and enable people to speed up their use of sites they visit regularly.

It could mean that after 25 May, users see many more pop-up windows and dialogue boxes asking them to let sites gather data.
 
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