What are cookies?

A cookie is a small file of letters and numbers that is downloaded on to your computer when you visit a website. Cookies are used by many websites and can do a number of things, eg remembering your preferences, recording what you have put in your shopping basket, and counting the number of people looking at a website.

The rules on cookies are covered by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR). PECR also covers the use of similar technologies for storing or accessing information, such as ‘Flash cookies’ and device fingerprinting.

The ICO is responsible for enforcing these rules.

How do the cookie regulations affect me?

You may come across information about cookies and similar technologies on websites and be given choices about how some cookies are used. This might include, for example, being asked to agree to a cookie being used for a particular service, such as remembering your preferences on a site.

Organisations have to provide clear and comprehensive information about the way they use cookies, and ensure that for any cookie not strictly necessary for their website, they give you an appropriate means of consenting to that cookie being set on your device.

How can I control my cookies?

Browser controls

You can use your web browser to:

  • delete all cookies;
  • block all cookies;
  • allow all cookies;
  • block ‘third-party’ cookies (ie, cookies set by online services other than the one you are visiting);
  • clear all cookies when you close the browser;
  • open a ‘private browsing’ / ‘incognito’ session, which allows you to browse the web without recording your browsing history or storing local data such as cookies (you should however be aware of the limitations of this feature in a privacy context); and
  • install add-ons and plugins that extend browser functionality.

Where to find information about controlling cookies

Useful information

Report your cookie concerns

We're asking people to report your cookie concerns. This will help us find out how organisations are complying with the cookie law. Rather than reply to each person individually, we will publish information about numbers and types of concerns reported, and let you know what we're doing about them.

Report your concerns