What Is a GDPR Cookie Banner and Why Does Your Website Need It?

Published 16 May, 2023 Updated 20 July, 2023

Pretty much everyone knows that web cookies collect data. But what are they exactly, and why do website owners need to use cookie banners?

What Is a GDPR Cookie Banner and Why Does Your Website Need It?

Data collection can help provide a more personalized and convenient user experience for your website visitors. However, before you can collect or process user data, you must obtain consent from your site users. You can fulfill this obligation by implementing a GDPR cookie banner on your website. 

The GDPR cookie consent banner relates to the General Data Protection Regulation, a law that aims to protect the privacy and personal data of EU citizens. In short, if you own a website and operate your business online, a cookie banner can help reduce the risk of legal and financial sanctions.

So, what exactly is a GDPR cookie banner, and why is it essential for your business website? How do you ensure GDPR compliance, and how does the banner indicate you are also compliant? You can find answers to these and many other questions below.

Key highlights

  • Web cookies are important because they help recognize visitors’ devices and remember their preferences when they revisit your site.
  • The GDPR aims to give individuals greater control over their personal data and increase transparency and accountability in how businesses handle that data, which is why being GDPR-compliant is vital for any business.
  • Under the GDPR, a website must obtain explicit consent from visitors about cookie usage and provide them with an option to reject data-tracking cookies.

What is a web cookie?

A web cookie, also known as an HTTP cookie, is a small text file that a website stores on a user’s device, such as a computer, a smartphone or a tablet, when the user visits the website. Websites require cookies to remember information about a visitor’s activity on the website, such as login information, browsing history and preferences. 

So, how exactly does a cookie work? When someone visits a website, the server drops cookies on the visitor’s device. The cookies exist in their browser cookie folder. The next time the visitor returns to the site, the browser returns the stored cookie to the site’s server, allowing the website to recognize the visitor and certain information. This ensures an enhanced user experience. For example, cookies can help retain items in a shopping cart, personalize content or even improve the website’s performance.

There are many different types of cookies, but here are some of the most common ones:

  • Persistent cookies
  • Session cookies
  • Tracking cookies
  • Authentication cookies
  • Zombie cookies
  • Third-party cookies

Persistent cookies 

Persistent cookies stay on a visitor’s device even after they have closed their browser or logged out of a site. These cookies persist for a specific period of time, ranging from days to years. They remain on the user’s computer until their specified expiration date or until the user manually deletes them. 

Session cookies

Session cookies help store information about a user’s session on a website. Unlike persistent cookies, these cookies are temporary and stored on the visitor’s device only while they are actively browsing the website. Once the visitor exits the browser or logs out of the site, these cookies are deleted automatically.

Tracking cookies

Tracking cookies, as the name implies, track a visitor’s browsing behavior across multiple websites. These cookies can store such information as browsing history, including the sites visited and the products viewed or purchased. Third-party tracking services, including advertising networks or analytics providers, usually set tracking cookies.

Authentication cookies

Authentication cookies appear anytime someone logs into an online account. These cookies exist within browsers and contain unique identifiers that verify the user’s identity as they navigate to different pages on the site. Authentication cookies enable users to access accounts without having to log in again whenever they visit a new page on the site.

Zombie cookies

Zombie cookies are controversial because they raise significant privacy concerns. Unlike regular cookies that can be deleted from a user’s device, zombie cookies can restore themselves even after a user has deleted them. These cookies recreate themselves from backup copies stored in various locations such as the user’s browser cache, Flash storage and HTML5 storage.

Third-Party cookies

Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one the user is currently visiting. Third parties can come in the form of advertisers or analytics providers, such as Google Analytics. They use these cookies to track a visitor’s browsing activity, serve targeted ads or collect data. 

Suppose a user visits a news website (first-party) with embedded content from a social media site (third-party) or third-party analytics services. 3rd party cookies and analytics cookies can then be set on the user’s device to target them with personalized ads and track browsing behavior.  

What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation is a regulation by the European Union to protect the privacy and personal data of its citizens. GDPR came into effect in 2018 to regulate individuals’ data collection, processing and storage by organizations. The regulation aims to give individuals greater control over their data privacy and increase transparency and accountability in how businesses handle that data.

Under the GDPR, businesses must inform users how their websites store cookies and also request consent before collecting and processing any data. They also must ensure that data is processed securely and responsibly and that they report data breaches promptly. Implementing a GDPR-compliant cookie policy also empowers individuals to access their data and request its erasure. 

The GDPR applies to all companies or businesses that process the personal data of EU residents, regardless of their location. Non-compliance with the GDPR can lead to significant fines and legal action.

4 top benefits of GDPR compliance

Here are the four benefits businesses and their customers can enjoy thanks to GDPR.

  1. Improved trust: Demonstrated commitment to protecting visitors’ data can build trust between businesses and their customers. As you inform visitors of your website’s cookie usage, you invoke trust and have better chances of obtaining the GDPR cookie consent.
  2. Competitive advantage: GDPR provides an edge for compliant businesses in crowded markets. Customers are more likely to trust businesses that prioritize privacy and data protection over those that do not or those that showcase vague compliance statements.
  3. Greater security: GDPR compliance requires businesses to implement measures to protect personal data from unauthorized access, which helps keep visitors’ data secure. This also benefits the business by minimizing the risk of costly data breaches and potential reputational damage.
  4. Stronger loyalty: GDPR compliance gives visitors greater control over their data with the right to access, correct and delete it. This can help business owners further strengthen customer trust and loyalty. 

What is the GDPR cookie consent banner?

A GDPR cookie banner, or GDPR cookie notification, is a banner or pop-up that shows up when someone visits a website. This banner empowers visitors to accept or decline cookies implemented by the website or third parties. 

Under the GDPR, consent is one of the lawful bases for processing personal data. This means website owners must obtain cookie consent from site visitors before collecting or processing their data. The banner must provide clear and concise information about the use of cookies and obtain valid consent from users before setting any non-essential cookies. 

GDPR requirements

The following requirements must be met for consent to be considered valid under the GDPR.

  • Freely given: Consent must be given freely, without coercion or pressure.
  • Specific and informed: The GDPR cookie banner must provide clear and detailed information about the use of cookies, including the purposes of the cookies, types of cookies and any third parties involved.
  • Unambiguous and active consent: Consent must be given through affirmative action – such as checking a box or clicking a button – as pre-ticked boxes or implied consent are not valid under the GDPR.
  • Easy access to cookie policies: A cookie consent pop-up must include a link to the website’s cookie policy, which should contain detailed information about how the user’s data is collected, processed and stored.
  • Granular options: Users must be provided with granular options to choose which types of cookies they want to accept or reject.
  • Easily withdrawn: Users must be able to manage cookie consent preferences, including the withdrawal of prior consent at any time.
  • Documented: Businesses must be able to demonstrate that consent was obtained, including the time and date of consent, the specific information provided to the user and the method used to get consent.

A GDPR-compliant cookie banner must meet the above requirements to protect user privacy rights and minimize the risk of financial sanctions and legal consequences.

Why you must enable visitors to reject cookies

Whether deviously or unknowingly, some website owners don’t ensure full compliance by giving users a chance to decline cookies in their cookie consent notice. However, from a legal standpoint, under the GDPR, you must allow users to provide consent and ensure consent is freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous. 

Including a reject button in your GDPR cookie consent banner allows users to exercise their right to refuse consent to cookie usage. It is imperative that you do not force your visitors to accept cookies, and they should have the choice not to have their data collected and processed, which is a fundamental right under the GDPR.

By obtaining user consent and providing a clear and easy way to reject cookies, you demonstrate respect for visitors’ privacy. So, if your visitor chooses to decline cookies or withdraw consent at a later date, you must respect their decision. This means you cannot store or access any information on their device. Note that full compliance will help position your business as trustworthy and help you avoid potential sanctions and legal issues. 

WAcademy Web Services: GDPR Cookie Notice

If you worry about GDPR compliance on your own website and want to minimize the risk of costly fines and penalties due to non-compliance, you need to implement a GDPR consent banner. And if you have a free website built by WAcademy interns, we can help you.

We offer a web service that empowers website owners to comply with the GDPR and other data privacy laws (e.g., the California Consumer Privacy Act – CCPA) by integrating a cookie consent banner. Our team will help you implement a customizable GDPR cookie consent banner that allows your site visitors to accept or refuse cookies. 

Screenshot of a website with the cookie banner at the bottom.
Cookie banner on a website designed by WAcademy interns

With our GDPR Cookie Notice service, you can:

  • Build customer trust and loyalty
  • Avoid financial and legal consequences related to non-compliance
  • Improve site functionality
  • Foster a positive user experience
  • Stand out from non-compliant competitors

Contact us today, and let’s implement a compliant GDPR cookie consent banner on your site so you can operate your business online with respect to your visitors and customers! Click the link below to browse all available web services that include Google Analytics, website administration, invoicing system for ecommerce websites, Meta Pixel, under construction page and social media feed integration.