Cookies – Don’t you just love them?

Written by John Dray

9th December 2019

As most of us browse our way around the internet we leave behind a trail. This trail of cookies identifies us and lets advertisers target us. There is a better way!

Why are they called cookies?

Cookies on square white ceramic plate 890577

They are kind of like a trail of cookies. Anyone following the trail we leave behind can find us.

In reality they are text files. Some of them go by posh names such as ‘analytics trackers’ or ‘facebook pixel’. When we visit a website, in addition to the information we read on the web page, these cookies are downloaded. 

Some of the cookies are really useful – they record whether we have logged into the website. Without this type of cookie, ‘membership websites’ could not work.

Then there are cookies that track whether you have visited before… so they can give you a more personal experience. Sometimes this personal experience means that you get presented with different prices. This could be to your advantage or disadvantage.

Still others will track that you have visited a particular website, or searched for a particular thing, and then show you advertising based on it. I once looked up getting a good divorce lawyer for a friend. For the next few months all the advertising i received was about divorce lawyers. Really embarrassing. 

Now there is an issue here in that you might not want to be tracked. 

The GDPR gives you certain rights. The idea is that your personal data is yours. Where a website wants to know more about you than you are comfortable with, you have the option to block them.

Option 1 – Taking responsibility for your cookies

If you are feeling technical, you can delve into your website browser’s settings and look for ways to block cookies. There is normally a setting where you can block cookies

  • cross-site cookies. These are cookies that are set by one site, but that can be read by lots of different websites. They are typically used for advertising.  (If this was set, it might have stopped my divorce solicitor problem)
  • block all cookies (which may prevent log-in to certain sites from working)
  • ’do not track’ – which asks websites not to track you. Unfortunately, most ignore this setting

So, if you take responsibility, you may end up with less functionality.

Typically I have my browsers set to block cross-site cookies. 

Option 2 – Use the site’s cookie settings

This option is more laborious as you have to set it on each website. Following the GDPR you should receive a notice when a website drops cookies in your browser. This notice should give you the option of which cookies to accept. There are normally three or four levels.

  • Block all cookies… may result in reduced functionality. So you probably will not be able to log in, on the other hand you will be cookie free
  • Block advertising cookies – so you will not receive cookies that allow you to be tracked from site to site
  • Block analytics cookies – these are used to gather statistics about who visits a website. Originally people used to collect the number of visitors, but they can now track gender, age and a whole range of characteristics
  • Allow all

While this option is more laborious, you are likely (unless you block all cookies) to end up with an experience that still lets you use all the functionality of the website. The developer of the website should have put in place scripts that have the potential to block facebook pixels and various analytics tracking cookies.

Another item to look out for is the cookie policy, which is the website’s policy on how they use cookies.

I hope that is useful. We do have a service that can help website developers put in place good policies with options to block various types of cookies. 

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