If You Give a Computer a Cookie

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Recently I walked into a meeting just because they advertised free cookies for attendees…I am not proud of it, but it’s true. I did enjoy the cookies, which was nice because not all meetings offer cookies. But this brings us to the real topic here, which is not meetings, but website cookies!

You have probably noticed an increasing numbers of websites that have asked you if you would like to “accept cookies.” Unfortunately, despite the delicious-sounding name, browser cookies vary in their sweetness; some are great and some are more bittersweet…

What is a cookie?

“I have seen these pop-ups before, but what are cookies really?” you might ask yourself. According to Google, “Cookies are small pieces of text sent to your browser by a website you visit. They help that website remember information about your visit, which can both make it easier to visit the site again and make the site more useful to you.”

One type of cookie, “third-party cookies,” is often used for advertising, data mining, and behavior tracking. These are the types of cookies to which privacy advocates object as they may allow companies to track your web activities across many unrelated websites.

Why are websites asking you to click to accept cookies? In 2011, a European Union directive gave individuals the right to refuse cookies (and other types of session storage) that reduce their online privacy. The European Union countries then adopted new laws based on that directive which are commonly known as “Cookie Law.” For this reason, U.S. users may notice these disclaimers on the websites of companies that operate globally.

Do I need a cookie disclaimer?

Should my website have a cookies disclaimer? The short answer is if your website uses cookies, and you are in the European Union, yes. In the U.S., there are not any federal laws regulating cookie use, but there are two states that have cookie-related laws. So, if you are in California or Virginia, it may be required!

These laws however do not require users to opt-in to cookie use, but rather require disclosure of said cookies and for what purposes the data will be used. Furthermore, according to InfoTrust, “U.S. laws do not concern themselves with cookies but rather how and for what purposes you are processing/using personal information/personal data.”

In 2022, Google Chrome joined Safari and Firefox web browsers in blocking third-party cookies by default. Those efforts have also been accompanied by attempts to preserve more individual privacy while still maintaining the ability to provide targeted topical advertising based on your anonymized browsing behavior.

What’s the takeaway?

The bottom line is that the EU Cookie Law has done a good job of pushing the web towards increased individual privacy from third-party website cookies. At this point, web browsers are doing a better job of protecting your individual privacy, and websites will increasingly offer you the option to accept only cookies required for the functionality of the site.

So, if you are feeling wary of the cookie warnings, know that you are probably better off because of them, and it is often okay to refuse a cookie.

Author


  • Programming for the web since he was a wee lad, Tony has a great appreciation for efficiency, minimal design, and programmatic eloquence. Wherever there is time being wasted, he'll be there with a script. Whenever there is injustice done to a website being rendered in an obscure outdated browser, he'll be there. Wherever there is ajax in distress, never fear. Recent reports mention him wielding a large camera and microphone.

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