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Google AdSense, AdMob and the EU Cookie Directive for apps and websites

European law has required digital publishers to disclose their use of cookies for some time now. It's a legal requirement for websites accessed by users in the EU to disclose what cookies are being used for. Websites display a prompt that informs a user they're on a site that uses cookies, allowing them to give consent.

In July 2015, Google sent an email to everyone who uses Google AdSense informing them of a new EU user consent policy that requires websites to comply with the EU privacy directive to continue to use the service. So, if your website uses AdSense to serve ads to visitors, you need to ensure that it displays the cookie prompt to new users, as well as having a privacy policy that describes what cookies are being used for.

This policy also applies to mobile apps that use Google's AdMob service to serve ads, which tracks users via a device identifier. If your mobile apps use AdMob to serve ads, you'll need a prompt that says so when the app is used for the first time. The prompt should tell users where to find more information about the usage of device identifiers. This applies to any app using AdMob, regardless of whether it's available for Android or iOS.

A bit of history

Google's EU user consent policy (referenced by the AdSense policy) requires publishers to comply with the law. The law we're referring to in the UK is The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, part of which is derived from European Directive 2002/58/EC, also known as "the e-privacy Directive".

The EU directive was introduced several years ago and the idea was to explicitly ban cookies (or other tracking features used to identify users) until users switched them on. Web publishers were not impressed, as very few websites would function correctly without cookies - users would have to agree to switch them on before they could continue. The requirements became law in 2011 and "this site uses cookies" prompts started to appear. By the time the law came into effect, guidelines from the Information Commissioner's office had been released that exempted certain cookies from the directive, such as user authentication cookies, but also suggested that implied consent would be allowed. This meant that cookies could in fact be switched on as soon as the user visited the site, but the prompt had to stay visible until users dismissed it, thereby agreeing to the site using cookies to track their behavior.

There's a great infographic and some more history about the EU privacy directive on the silktide website.

What to do

There'e some advice on the Google Cookie Choices website and a post on the AdSense blog to help you understand more about the new policy, and some options on what to do about it. In summary:

  • For websites that use AdSense, you need to display a prompt that informs users the site uses cookies to deliver relevant ads. It should also give them the option to agree/dismiss the alert and point them at a privacy policy page. You therfore also need a privacy policy page that explains what cookies are being used for.
  • For mobile apps that use AdMob, a prompt should appear the first time the app is used that explains the app uses a device identifier to deliver content or ads. It should also tell users where to go for more information - it's expected this will be a page on your app's website such as the privacy policy mentioned above.

Although Google's site gives some guidance, it's still not 100% clear how publishers should meet with the EU requirements, especially related to apps. To comply with Google's policy updates, publishers should fully meet the requirements by September 2015, so hopefully by then we'll have a better idea of exactly what's required based on what other publishers have done.

If you fail to meet these requirements after the deadline, it's not clear exactly what will happen. Google recommends seeking legal advice on how to meet the requirements, although they also acknowledge that it might not be possible for some publishers to do so.

We can help you to implement cookie prompts on existing mobile apps and websites. Contact us now with information about your site or app to have a chat with one of our development experts.

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