Today is EU Cookie Law Day, as the extended deadline for putting cookie compliance procedures in place has arrived.
Each website in the UK and EU has to give their visitors the option to accept or reject cookies used on the website. This is usually in the form of a pop up which demands acceptance of cookies before the visitor can continue, or a clear disclaimer explaining which cookies are used on the website, what they are used for and how they will affect the visitor if they continue using it.
If you’ve been searching for a swimsuit online, you will probably find you will be bombarded with advertising for bikinis from Next, Debenhams or wherever. This is because a website you visited in the past (not even identifiable) deposited a cookie onto your PC or laptop which hung around gathering data about you. Having obtained the information it needed (swimsuits) it then waited for you to visit a suitable website where it could popularise the advertising slots with information about bikinis, as that is what it thinks you are interested in.
This is Enchilada Digital‘s definition of a cookie:
A Cookie is a text file that browser places on your computer’s hard drive on behalf of the website being served. The Cookie usually contains information, such as a user or session ID, that allows the website to remember who you are across multiple page views or browsing sessions. Most websites have 10 or more cookies. See this website for more information on cookies.
The legal powers that be then decided that enough was enough, and that cookies were bad news and should be stopped. Unfortunately not all cookies are bad: a bit like some bacteria are not bad for you. Some cookies are vital for the day-to-day running of a website, and without their presence your surfing experiences would be very dull indeed.
The web developing world have tried their best to explain this to our law-creating personnel, but, as is usual with internet-related things, they do not fully understand. They have managed to grasp that any e-commerce that happens on the web, shopping carts, paypal and the like, need cookies to be able to operate, and these have been given a class that determines them as ‘vital’ and are exempt from the EU Cookie Laws.
But there are still other cookies that are not detrimental to website users and do not create annoying spam. These cookies do collect data about the visitor, but the transaction is short-lived and usually has an immediate purpose, like sharing a blog post on your Facebook profile, or retweeting it on Twitter. Any sign up form to subscribe to a blog or newsletter list requires cookies where user data is collected, but again without this the transaction would not be possible, and the outcome is carefully controlled, especially if there is an opt-in mechanism required.
The greatest impact this Cookie Law has is on analytics. I collect data about my visitors via Google Analytics, so I can find out how many visitors I’ve had, where they have come from, which pages they visited on my site, what made them leave, what information they gathered and how often they return. This does require a lot of cookie use, and the data collected is quite extensive, but without analysing visitor use and understanding what its audience likes and wants, how can I improve my website to make it better for my visitors and advance my website’s purpose?
Meanwhile, to comply with the new laws, I have had to upload a plugin that produces an acceptance box for every page, and I have included a Cookie Compliance disclaimer at the top of my sidebar just in case. You would think surely is it really necessary to do all of this? Nobody would really be interested in every single little blog and website out there, all dealing with non-spam related cookies only used to enhance the website’s performance – but it would be disastrous for those who were ‘caught’ and had their sites taken down. And I reckon little outfits are easier to target than the big corporate boys who have legal teams poised ready to react should the law enforcers come knocking on their doors.