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What is the Difference Between a Privacy Policy and a Cookie Policy?

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In today’s information-heavy business world, many businesses collect personal information from individuals. As a result, a range of privacy laws apply to protect individuals. Businesses processing personal data must publish a privacy policy document if they use personal data as a data controller. In the digital space, most platforms deploy cookies on user devices for several purposes. Such businesses will likely need to publish a cookie policy to inform users about cookie practices. As a business owner, you need to understand the difference between privacy and cookie policies. This article will explore the key differences and legal regimes governing privacy and cookie policies.

What is a Privacy Policy?

The UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) governs how businesses can use personal information about living individuals. A privacy policy is a document businesses adopt to meet one of the critical requirements around transparency under the UK GDPR rules.

As data controllers, businesses must offer clear privacy information to all individuals they collect personal data from. A data controller is an organisation that determines how and why to use personal data.

A privacy policy must specify detailed information about how a business handles personal data.

For example, a privacy policy must include detailed information about the following:

  • the types of personal data businesses collect from individuals;
  • the intended purposes for which businesses will use the data;
  • the duration for which businesses will retain the data;
  • information about any third parties who may have access to individuals’ personal data;
  • information about whether businesses will transfer personal data outside the United Kingdom;
  • measures taken to ensure the security of individuals’ personal data; and
  • an explanation of individuals’ data protection rights, such as the right to make a subject access request.

Providing this information to individuals is vital and businesses should do it before processing personal data. For instance, an online e-commerce shop should provide its privacy policy to users before they sign up and provide their personal details to the company. This ensures that users understand how a business will use their personal data before providing their information so they can make an informed decision.

Many businesses deploy cookies on their user devices. For example, online shops commonly use cookies on their websites or mobile apps. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) govern the use of cookies.

If a business uses cookies, Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations prescribe that it needs to inform users about the use of cookies, and users must give their consent for their use.

A common way to inform users about cookies is to provide a cookie policy document. A cookie policy serves as a key transparency document, explaining various details about cookie usage. It must describe a business’s different cookie types and provide information about how users can manage their preferences effectively.

Businesses deploying cookies must provide users with comprehensive, user-friendly information about cookies. Implementing a cookie preference centre and a cookie policy can empower users to exercise control over cookie usage.

In a cookie policy, you should include essential information such as:

  • clearly identifying the cookies being used;
  • stating the purposes of using cookies;
  • specifying how long cookies are kept;
  • providing information about third-party access to cookies;
  • offering opt-out mechanisms for users; and
  • describing the technical specifications of cookies.
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The table below outlines key differences between a privacy and cookie policy.

Privacy PolicyCookie Policy
Explains how a business handles personal information.Explains how a business deploys and uses cookies on user devices.
The essential purpose is to disclose practices around personal data use.More technical policy explaining how cookies are stored and used, and how users can control them.
Transparency purpose.Transparency purpose.
Serves the function of disclosing personal data practices.Serves the function of disclosing cookie usage practices.
Ensures compliance and avoids negative consequences such as enforcement action or customer complaints.Ensures compliance and avoids negative consequences such as enforcement action or customer complaints.
Failure to have one can lead to risks like enforcement action or customer complaints.Failure to have one can lead to risks like enforcement action or customer complaints.

Many businesses in practice will both process personal data as a controller and deploy cookies. As such, these businesses will require both a privacy policy and a cookie policy. While publishing a joint privacy and cookie policy is possible, you should be cautious with this approach. For instance, you must ensure you do not confuse the differences between cookie and privacy policies.

A joint privacy and cookie policy must provide all the necessary details to comply with both the UK General Data Protection Regulation and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations rules. You must also ensure that the joint policy is clear enough so users can easily understand how your business will use their personal data and cookies. If you would like guidance on drafting and presenting a cookie policy and privacy policy, you should seek advice from a data protection solicitor.

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Key Takeaways 

Ensuring your business understands the difference between privacy and cookie policies is essential. If your business processes personal data as a controller, you must inform individuals about how you use their personal information. A privacy policy document will enable you to do so clearly and transparently. In contrast, a cookie policy will help you notify users about the types of cookies you deploy on their devices and how those cookies function in practice. A cookie policy is a more technical document that must be provided if your business uses cookies through its platforms.

If you need help with a privacy or cookie policy, our experienced data, privacy and IT lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0808 196 8584 or visit our membership page.

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Sej Lamba

Sej Lamba

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