The EU Cookie Laws Will Be Hard To Swallow


When it comes to kicking out the cookies, the EU may have bitten off more than it can eschew, argues Eric Doyle

Do you want a cookie? What kind of cookie? A nutty HTML? A fruity Flash? A deluxe HTML5? Cookies come in all three varieties and they are all illegal. Well, they may be – or maybe not.

The majority of people have no idea what a cookie is, what it does and, even if they did know, could probably not care less. To the civil rights people, they are evil privacy invaders, to the average Website owner they are the lifeblood of keeping their customers satisfied, but, to some cookie cutters, they can be the lifeblood of an advertising empire.

To the European Commission, a cookie is an experience that should be shared between consenting adults on the great assumption that the adults concerned know what the cookie does. Under European law these little text files will soon be outlawed and children will, no doubt, be warned not to accept cookies from strangers.

ICO Takes The Biscuit

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The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office), which will be responsible for overseeing the new law, should be a model of fairplay cookiedom. Indeed, its Website design is now spoiled by an ugly, verbose banner which explains: “The ICO would like to use cookies to store information on your computer, to improve our Website. You may delete and block all cookies from this site, but parts of the site will not work. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy notice.”

If you choose not to accept cookies, by not clicking on the “Accept” tickbox, the natural thing would be to click “Continue”. But no, the banner just adds the line “You must tick the ‘I accept cookies from this site’ box to accept”.

The real way to move on to the cookieless experience is just to carry on using the page – then the banner follows you from page to page. The reward for the cookie takers is that the banner disappears and it would be interesting to see figures of how many people who may eschew cookies end up biting the biscuit to gain a nag-free life.

As I said before, the grand assumption is that you know what a cookie is and what it does. Nowhere in the ICO site is this explained – and I would defy anyone to sum up in a few words what a cookie is and what it does in all its detail. In fact, I’m not sure I know and I’m old enough to have written about the evils of cookies when they were introduced to Internet Explorer in 1995 – though they were devised and implemented quietly by Netscape in the Mosaic browser before that.

No Sense Of Privacy

Even if people fully understood cookies, it would not stop them accepting them. If people will hand over their Oystercard passwords and usernames to some third party outfit that promises them they will look after the information and, in return, the trusting souls can join a Tube-wide game, how many would be willing to sign up for an “Automatic Cookie Clicker” application which will just accept any old cookie without blinking?

Perhaps future browsers will have a modification to their “Accept No Cookies” option that will automatically reject all cookies without user intervention.

As the ICO site admits, parts of the site won’t work. If one of these “parts” happens to be the shopping trolley on a commerce site then the cookie ban will soon be forgotten. “Born to Shop” users will not let anything get between themselves and an online bargain.

When the EC gets its way, as it has sworn to do, how will the Web site of the future look?

Paul Carpenter, search and operations manager at Trusted Dealers, put together an entertaining Web page on the David Naylor Website, to show how this could work. Please visit the site and see how long it is before you click on the “prevent other dialogues” option.

The Cookie Monster Living It Large

Considering some sites already have up to 300 cookies to accept or reject, according to a research team’s paper posted on the Social Science Research Network Website, it could be a hard task getting into some sites. Time to grit your teeth, buy a thimble to protect your index finger from blisters, and prepare for some serious clicktivity.

Cookies are privacy invaders but they are so interwoven with e-commerce it is difficult to use the Web without them or to weed them out. The EC needs to give the ban more thought. Oliver Emberton, founder of Website development toolmaker Silktide, agrees and has made a short video arguing the pros and cons – well the cons (see below).

So far we have only discussed the humble HTML cookie. We haven’t touched on its evil twin siblings Flash and HTML5 who crash the party and don’t know when to leave – but that is a story for another day.

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