Crumbs! Cookies may not be so bad after all

In May 2011, an EU law called the e-Privacy Directive, deemed that cookies that identify the user without their knowledge and consent are illegal. This did not stop them, however, it just meant that we were faced with an endless stream of permission requests before the cookies are transferred over to our device.

Prior to this piece of legislation, cookies were transmitted in a more covert way, and were a natural part of website design. Bringing them out in the open in such a finger-pointing manner has put the idea in many people’s minds that cookies are viruses – which they aren’t.

Cookies are tiny files placed onto your device to monitor things that can benefit you (such as what item you last viewed) and the site owner (such as your viewing habits while you are there). It is true, admittedly, that along with the good cookies there are a few bad ones lurking at the bottom of the jar – but most of these are just a bit irritating rather than downright evil.

Useful cookies make it easier for sites to give you information that is relevant to your needs; make form filling faster; and memorise what’s in your shopping basket when you want to take a break. These cookies make web browsing easier and more user-friendly. They also provide website owners with quantitative and qualitative data that they can use to improve the way their site works.

There are also cookies that notice, for example, that you have been browsing around a few online camera stores recently, doing a bit of research into a possible birthday present for your other half. And afterwards, every web page you (and your other half) visit is packed with advertisements for cameras! This kind of cookie may be well-meaning, but it can be annoying too.

Google Analytics is one of many programs that uses cookies to provide a website owner with detailed insight into how people discover their site and what they do once they are there. This enables the site owner to continually enhance the site to better meet the needs of all who visit it.

So cookies are not as dreadful as some may think, and certainly not as hazardous as many of the other digital beasties that are roaming the internet waiting to pounce.

Useful links

  • The Information Commissioner’s Office offers advice about the EU Cookie Law (E-Privacy Directive) but you’ll need to accept cookies from YouTube to view their video!
  • Facebook is facing a class action regarding their use of tracking software: BBC News