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Demystifying Cookie Consent Management: Your Ultimate How-To Guide

Osman Husain 6/11/24 12:16 AM
cookie consent management

Table of Contents

What is Cookie Consent Management?

Cookie consent management is the process by which a business collects consent from its users and stores that information for later use. Cookies do several things. They remember preferences, track user behaviours, enable targeted ads, and more. 

These days, cookie management is handled through consent management platforms (CMPs) that automate many of the core consent processes and make it easy for businesses to keep compliance programs up to date. Staying on top of consent management isn’t just a question of keeping users informed—it's a legal requirement to protect users’ privacy and help them retain control over their personal data.

 

What is a Cookie Consent Manager?

A cookie consent manager is a type of CMP that helps businesses collect, store, and manage user consent, thereby helping organizations stay compliant with regulatory requirements. Cookie consent managers display cookie banners to website visitors depending on where they're logging in from. 

These tools adjust the type of cookie banner based on geolocation, record and store consent, and maintain logs of each user. It’s one of the fastest ways to bring a website into compliance with the GDPR, the CCPA, Quebec Law 25, and other mandates.

 

enzuzo cookie consent managerHere's an example of Enzuzo's Cookie Consent Manager showing cookie scanning and categorization. 

 

How Do You Handle Cookie Consent?

Cookie banners collect user consent and relay it back to the consent manager. Each banner should have clear guidelines on what cookies the site loads (including third-party cookies), what their purpose is (analytics, marketing, strictly necessary), and provide a toggle button for users to accept or reject cookies. It is also recommended that cookie banners provide a link to the website's cookie policy for transparency purposes.

👉 Start building your free cookie consent manager (no credit card required)

 

How Does a Cookie Consent Manager Work?

Cookie consent solutions manage the entire consent lifecycle, from collecting user consent via the frontend, to storing it and triggering the preferences each time the user visits the website. Here are some of their core capabilities: 

  1. Cookie Scanning: The tool scans the website to create an inventory of all cookies, their purposes, and the data they collect. This information is categorized, documented, and made available to view inside your consent management software
  2. Consent Banner Display: Based on the company’s desired messaging, cookie consent managers display banners to users that inform them of the company’s data handling policies. Users will then have the choice to opt out of cookie consent. 
  3. Preference Management: If users wish to examine their data sharing in more depth, CMPs like Enzuzo can help them manage their cookie preferences through a dedicated interface, often called a “cookie preference center.” This allows users to consent to different categories of cookies and change their preferences at any time.
  4. Cookie Blocking: To prevent missteps, cookie consent tools can block cookies from being set until the user provides consent. This ensures that non-essential cookies are not placed on the user's device without the user’s permission, which would risk potential compliance violations.

Cookie consent managers offer detailed analytics and reports. This is the best way to track user interactions with consent banners and preferences, which, in turn, helps companies learn more about user preferences and consent trends. 

 

Do I Need a Cookie Consent Manager?

If you're collecting data or selling to audiences in North America, Europe, and the Middle East, you're required to ask users for consent and store their preferences inside a cookie consent manager. 

Most websites use tracking cookies both on-site (to remember user preferences and settings) and off-site (to track user behavior across different websites for advertising purposes). A cookie consent tool supports simple management of these cookies, and others, in ways that eliminate the risk of privacy violations.

Compliance with Google Consent Mode relies on having a Google-certified CMP in your corner. As of January 2024, Google now requires businesses serving content to users in the UK or EEA via Google AdSense, Ad Manager, or AdMob to back up their processes with these verified platforms. Failure to do so means companies will be unable to leverage these tools, and they may be unable to reach these audiences with their ads. 

 

Benefits of a Cookie Consent Manager 

Here are three benefits of cookie consent managers:

 

Helps Comply With Regulatory Requirements

A cookie consent manager is essential to avoid penalties if your organization operates in jurisdictions with strict cookie consent regulations (e.g., GDPR, CCPA, Quebec Law 25). Remember, these mandates apply not only to businesses in the area but also for global companies that capture data of customers in those regions. Given the massive scope of the GDPR, this makes cookie consent platforms all but required in industries like ecommerce, healthcare, and marketing. 

 

Promotes Efficiency and Accuracy

A cookie management platform is an automated and foolproof method of identifying, sorting, and categorizing cookies, thereby reducing the chance of manual errors. Cookie consent tools do all the heavy lifting for you; they scan, categorize, and report on all cookies in use. They offer a level of efficiency that can’t be matched through old-fashioned manual tracking.

 

Scalability

As your website grows and evolves, a cookie consent manager can scale with you. It will seamlessly integrate on to new pages and deal with a larger volume of traffic. The right cookie consent manager will also automatically categorize new cookies as and when it detects them. This is a notable benefit for lightweight platforms like Enzuzo, which can adapt to your changing cookie portfolio through simple, user-friendly customizations. This ease of use makes the tool suitable for any business, from smaller shops to large enterprises. 

Compare this with larger CMPs loaded down with API integrations and plugins, and it’s clear why companies prefer leaner software solutions to manage their compliance goals. 

 

How to Pick the Right Cookie Consent Manager

Selecting the right cookie consent manager boils down to business requirements. Here's a handy checklist you can use for evaluating the right consent management platform: 

  1. Features: Does the platform offer value-added features like cookie auto-blocking, categorization, geo-location consent, and more?
  2. Pricing: What does the platform offer in each plan? Is the pricing scalable as your business needs expand?
  3. Website Traffic Limits: Does the consent manager place limits on the number of website visitors or page scans?
  4. Migration & After-Sales Support: How does the team offer support and installation assistance?

    enzuzo pricing page 

Enzuzo's flexible pricing plans help companies with a variety of budgetary constraints. 

 

What is a Cookie Consent Strategy?

A cookie consent strategy is a documented framework that codifies the whys, hows, and whens of cookie data collection. A cookie consent strategy should outline how the organization plans to collect consent as well as how it plans to store these consents in compliance with regulations. Think of it as a guiding document that keeps everyone on the same page. An effective cookie strategy should cover the essential areas of compliance:

 

Cookie Audit

Conduct a thorough audit of the cookies used to identify their purposes, the data they collect, and their compliance with regulations. This inventory is the foundation of the cookie consent strategy and can be handled through the company’s CMP.

 

User Education

Provide clear and concise information to users about which types of cookies are used and their implications for privacy. This information should be easy to access and written in plain language to leave no room for questions about how data may be used. 

 

Consent Mechanism

Implement a user-friendly consent mechanism that allows users to accept or reject cookies and manage their preferences. Customizable cookie consent banners are by far the most popular choice for collecting these permissions.

 

Documentation and Records

Make sure your chosen CMP logs user consent details, including when and how it was obtained. This documentation may be requested by regulators and auditors when they review the efficacy of a company’s data privacy compliance program.  

 

Regular Review and Updates

Regularly review and update policies in your cookie management platform to make sure that any changes in applicable regulations are reflected in your policy. While most sweeping mandates give companies plenty of time to apply changes, it helps to stay informed on how the privacy landscape may evolve in the years to come.  

 

Types of Cookies

Cookies can be categorized based on their origin, function, or duration. For the sake of simplicity, most cookies are grouped into the following categories:

  • Strictly Necessary Cookies: provide essential functionality for the website across displays, navigation, or security.
  • Performance/Analytics Cookies: collect data on how users interact with each website to improve functionality and tighten performance.
  • Targeting or Advertising Cookies: track user activity to deliver targeted ads and measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns.
  • Security Cookies: are a type of strictly necessary cookie that secures communication and protects user data.
  • Session/Persistent Cookies: help remember and manage user sessions temporarily or over multiple visits.

Cookie-consent-F-2

 

What Happens if You Don't Consent to Cookies?

Many users have become more conscious of their online privacy and may decline cookie consent. This may have some implications on website performance: 

 

Limited Functionality

If your website users choose not to consent to cookies, their browsing experience on your site might change significantly. While certain functional cookies will be considered essential and not affected by user consent, other features—such as personalized content experiences—may not work correctly. 

With a clear explanation of how cookies boost the convenience of their browsing, companies can help prod users to unlock the full functionality of the web experience on offer. This can support more active engagement with your cookie management platform.

Editors Note: Limited functionality is not allowed under the GDPR. If your website collects data from European residents, you're required to give them the full experience even if they don't consent to cookies.  

 

Reduced Personalization

Without cookies, users will lose the personalized experiences that so many websites aim to achieve. This could mean showing them generic content instead of personalized recommendations or random advertisements that aren’t relevant to their interests. 

A lack of personalization is a tough hurdle to overcome, particularly in cutthroat ecommerce industries where a few extra steps can make or break a sale. Explain to users how cookies deliver content that makes their browsing experience more valuable.

 

Worse Ad Performance

Users will still see ads of course, but they won’t be as relevant to their interests or behaviors as they could be. This usually means less engagement, fewer clicks, and reduced performance. Again, it comes down to the role of cookies in content personalization and preference tracking. Explain to users that cookie consent policies help provide a structured way to manage their preferences and show them the information most suited to their goals. 

Even with these potential drawbacks, a clear cookie management system  is an essential part of compliance that respects user preferences. Companies can hit the ground running with compliance when they select a cookie consent manager platform that eases the process. 

 

Rules for Cookie Consent Management

The rules around cookie consent management vary depending on where transactions occur. Some mandates, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), apply to any resident of the EU’s 27 member states as well as all countries in the European Economic Area (EEA). Conversely, mandates like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) apply to a specific state (California) in the US and provide additional protections for those doing business in the area. 

Many mandates are comparable, and not all of them apply to every business. An important first step in cookie consent management is to understand which compliance rules apply to your business and how to set up your cookie consent tools to accommodate these regulations. 

 

Cookie Consent Management Rules for GDPR

The GDPR, in effect since May 2018, is perhaps the most comprehensive data protection regulation on record. It applies to all organizations that operate within the EU, the EEA, and those outside the EU that offer goods or services to EU residents. As a chief global privacy mandate, the GDPR maintains extensive requirements for how organizations collect, store, and use personal data. Cookie consent policies are chief among the processes examined in GDPR audits.

The biggest cookie consent management rule for GDPR is that consent must be set to 'opt-out' by default. Companies cannot automatically load cookies on browsers without explicit user consent.

Key GDPR requirements for cookie consent management include:

  1. Informed Consent: Businesses need to know exactly what cookies are doing and why. More specifically, companies must have clear and comprehensive information about the types of cookies used, their purposes, and the data each one stores. This information should be easily accessible and understandable for audiences; it’s usually presented via cookie banners or other consent policies.

  2. Prior Consent: User permission is mandatory before any cookies are used. There are some exceptions, such as essential cookies, which are necessary for website functionality and don’t require permission. However, all cookies deemed “non-essential” must be paired with active consent.

  3. Granular Consent: Users should be able to consent to different categories of cookies separately. For example, cookies can be grouped across analytics, advertising, and functionality, with each category requiring express consent for use. Users must also be able to withdraw consent at any time.

  4. Proof of Consent: Organizations must keep records of user consent, including when and how it was obtained. These cookie consent logs must be available for audit by data protection authorities, as they’re a top way to hold companies accountable for what they do with user data.

Cookie Consent Management Rules for CCPA

The CCPA took effect in January 2020. It represents the United States’ biggest achievement in state-level digital privacy. Businesses operating in California or targeting California residents must adhere to specific requirements on how data is handled, similar in function to the rules outlined in the GDPR.

The biggest cookie consent management rule for CCPA is that companies are allowed to load cookies by default. Customers are given the option to opt-out but that is not the default status, like it is under GDPR. 

Broadly, the CCPA gives users more control over how their data is used and includes the following guidelines:

  1. Notice of Collection: Businesses must inform consumers at, or before, the point of data collection that their information is being collected. A business must also detail why the data is being used through a clear and straightforward notice.

  2. Right to Opt Out: Consumers should always have the right to opt out of the sale of their personal information. A business must provide a clear "Do Not Sell My Personal Information" link on its website and give users the option to exclude themselves.

  3. Non-Discrimination: Businesses cannot discriminate against consumers who exercise their CCPA rights. This means that consumers who choose to opt out of cookie tracking must not be denied access to services or face retaliatory actions. This is meant to ensure that a user’s rights never come at the cost of service quality.

  4. Initiate Private Clause: Should a data breach occur and compromise protected data, individuals have a right to initiate actions, such as lawsuits, against companies that fail to secure and protect user information.

Cookie Consent Management Rules for Quebec Law 25

Quebec's Law 25 is the most prominent privacy legislation to come out of Canada. The majority of regulations took effect in September 2023 after a multi-year rollout period. Comparable to the GDPR and the CCPA, this law aims to enhance privacy protection for Quebec residents and establish stricter controls for data collection than what exists in other provinces. 

Quebec Law 25 requirements are similar to GDPR; companies cannot load cookies without explicit permission from users. 

Key requirements for compliance with Quebec Law 25 include:

  1. Transparency: Organizations must provide clear and concise information about the purposes of cookie usage, the types of data collected, and the third parties with whom data is shared. This information should be easily accessible for viewers.

  2. Explicit Consent: Like in the GDPR, explicit consent should be granted before using non-essential cookies on a user's device. This consent must be documented and verifiable when requested.

  3. User Rights: Users have the right to access, correct, and delete their personal information. Notably, businesses must provide mechanisms for users to exercise these rights through the use of online tools, form fields, dashboards, or other tactics.

  4. Data Minimization: As is the case with many regulations, Law 25 notes that businesses must restrict data collection to the information necessary for its stated purpose. Additionally, data should be disposed of in a timely manner to safeguard user privacy in the long-term.

Looking to onboard a cookie consent manager? Book a free call with a product expert to learn more on how Enzuzo can meet your cookie consent requirements 👇Book a Free Demo

 

Osman Husain

Osman is the content lead at Enzuzo. He has a background in data privacy management via a two-year role at ExpressVPN and extensive freelance work with cybersecurity and blockchain companies. Osman also holds an MBA from the Toronto Metropolitan University.