EU Cookie Consent Interfaces

By Travis Pinnick
User Experience Designer | TRUSTe

Cookies are a pervasive browser tool used for the purpose of creating stateful interactions (ie. keeping track of your preferences, analyzing site usage, or to show ads tailored to your interests.) This year a new law goes into effect in the European Union requiring user consent before cookies may be placed on a user’s machine. This requirement will have a significant impact on how users experience the internet, both tangible (consumers will potentially be presented with a myriad of consent options) and intangible (if requiring consent affects ad targeting opt-out, it could also affect how the ‘free’ web is monetized).

Cookie Consent Interfaces

Implementing privacy systems like what is described by the EU directive requires strong user experience considerations. We conducted an initial test of two versions of the interface, as well a conceptual assessment of users’ understanding of how cookies work and how users feel about being required to consent to their use.

Modal interface

The first design tested was ‘modal’ – ie. users are shown an alert message the first time they visit a site and are required to state a preference before using the site.

View interactive demo »

Passive interface

The second design tested was ‘passive’ – ie. the alert is fixed at the top of the screen, and though it is persistent until the user states a preference, the user is otherwise able to interact with the site.

View interactive demo »

User Preferences and How They Affect Implementation

Half of the users tested were UK citizens, and half were based in the US. Unsurprisingly the US-based users were universally resistant to a cookie consent requirement, while the UK-based users were more accepting of the idea. Regarding their likelihood to allow cookies when they encountered a consent notice, almost all users stated that they would simply allow cookies for sites they trust, and block them otherwise.

Of the two designs, users preferred the second ‘passive’ version of the consent interface 2 to 1, mostly because they like the idea of being able to interact with the site before making a decision. However users also universally stated the expectation that no cookies should be set during this interaction period until a cookie preference was stated. Users also stated they would be annoyed if cookie inhibitions affected site functionality, which would almost certainly be the case given this implementation.

Next Steps

We will be iterating and further testing this design and will share the results as we get them.  Our goal is to design systems that offer the right educational material and set of choices. This is a work in progress and feedback is encouraged.

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