DUDLEY Council is among local authorities outed as hosting third party advertising cookies on their online benefits pages.

An investigation by the BBC's Shared Data Unit has found some 54 per cent of council websites host such cookies - small text files used to track users around the internet - on their pages offering advice to people on benefits.

And more than two thirds of councils do not appear to ask for the correct form of consent under current privacy laws, according to the national investigation.

Cookies attach themselves to browsers when web pages are opened, and they are the main technology used to gather data for targeted and behavioural advertising.

Many are essential and are used to improve the browsing experience - and for audience measurement, hosting and website design.

Third-party advertising cookies help companies deliver adverts relevant to our browsing habits.

But before cookies are placed on a user’s browser, a publisher must ask for and be given legal consent from the user under the PECR (Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations) which sit alongside the Data Protection Act and the GDPR.

The user must be offered an active decision to accept or decline cookies when they first land on a website.

Dudley Council, however, is among local authorities found to be assuming consent on their websites.

Councillor Simon Phipps, Dudley Councils cabinet member responsible for ICT services, said: “We are aware of the independent research into websites across the country and are reviewing the content of the report to see how it relates to Dudley Council.

"Our website is monitored and reviewed regularly to ensure it meets all legal and accessibility requirements, including through independent advisory groups such as society for innovation, technology and modernisation (SocITM).”

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), an independent body set up to uphold information rights, however, has said it will look into the findings - in light of the BBC's investigation which found cookies linked to 31 known companies spread across 10 different countries (including the UK) on council websites viewed.

A number of the third party advertising cookies found on Dudley Council's website were linked to Google.

A spokesman for the tech giant said: “Google does not build advertising profiles from sensitive interest categories, including from sites offering benefits such as welfare or unemployment, and we have strict policies preventing advertisers from using such data to target ads.

“We require publishers using Google’s advertising products to obtain consent for cookies from European users, and take action against non-compliant publishers including suspension or termination.”