Changes made to Hampshire council websites after potentially illegal advertising data is found
TWO councils have amended their online policies to comply with UK and EU data law after an investigation discovered illegal third-party content on their websites.
It comes after a BBC probe found Google advertising cookies on Portsmouth, Havant, Hampshire and East Hampshire's council sites in October.
Cookies are small text files that track internet users and can be used to provide them with targeted advertising.
While the law says cookies for advertising can only be displayed if users explicitly accept them, the BBC data’s alleged consent was assumed on all four websites at the time – putting them at odds with the advice of The Information Commissioner's Office.
The investigation found these advertising cookies led to adverts displaying high-interest credit cards, Black Friday deals and sports cars on the benefits pages of some local authority websites, but these were not found on sites for the four local councils.
A spokesman for Portsmouth City Council said it does not carry online adverts and that it only uses Google cookies to improve its website for users.
‘However, the BBC investigation highlighted to us that Google had also been using part of the analytics tool to collect information.
‘It is this element of analytics that is referred to in the report as “advertising cookies” and we switched this off as soon as we became aware of it.’
Advertising cookies are used on Havant and East Hampshire’s council websites, but only if users click to accept them, a spokesman said.
He added: ‘We do not allow advertising for gambling, alcohol, credit cards, payday loans, politics and adult themes.
‘We currently use other cookies on the council website (predominately to ensure a good user experience) and we are working to ensure we are compliant with regulations.’
Hampshire County Council said it has now introduced ‘a compliant consent solution’ to match ICO regulation on explicit consent for cookies.
‘Hampshire has a published statement of all the cookies used on our public website at hants.gov.uk/aboutthecouncil/privacy/cookie-policy.
‘Within this statement, and for the purpose of communications and marketing, we are clear that we use both Facebook and Google cookies.
‘These are used to market our ‘choose to use services’ e.g. country parks and libraries and to enable us to deliver public information campaigns, such as those relating to public health and consultations.’
The BBC said the ICO has vowed to look into its findings.