Anyone for a Cookie?

There has been a lot of chat about the so called “Cookie Law” in recent months, largely around whether or not to comply, what is compliant and what it is actually about. Well the first thing to understand about the “cookie law” is that it is about more than just cookies. The focus of the law is about storing information about the user (usually stored in text files in the browser called “cookies”), no matter what that information is. I am not going to go into the details of the law now, as you will no doubt already know the gist of it and if you don’t then the ICO website can help better than I can.

The key thing about this law that most people have failed to grasp though is not the specifics, it is the underlying point. The reason why so many people have got so animated about this law is nothing to do with technology and it is nothing to do gathering analytics, it is about trust. The simple truth is that if we are storing information about a user, without their consent, and they become aware of this then they will start to lose trust in the website and brand. It is not important whether we are storing information that can be related specifically to them or if it is something as high level as where they are going. The point is that we are storing information that affects how we treat them, even if it is anonymous.

We, as digital providers, know that a large proportion of the cookies we use are to see how people are using our websites or to provide users with specific / personalised functionally. But for the general public it is a different matter all together. They don’t understand how the technology works or how we use it and so finding out that we treat them in specific ways based on what they do is quite annoying for them. And I can understand this, I wouldn’t want other people to make decisions about how they treat me without me having any say at all.

So cutting through the murk, what does this mean for us? We (as people who store info for good reasons) have to accept that we are in this situation because of the rather less desirable people who have abused this technology in order to ‘stalk’ people around the web trying to market things. We can’t change that, we can’t change where we are now and not complying is actually not going to help anyone. Instead, we find ourselves with responsibilities as people designing these sites; The first of these is to tell people what we are doing, in plain English, explaining the benefits of the technology and the disadvantages of opting out. The second is to make sure that we only capture data that is absolutely needed. If you don’t need to know someone’s location then don’t capture it, simple as that. And lastly, give people the chance to opt out easily should they choose to. As long as they understand what opting out means then it should be their choice.

Whilst this is an annoying situation to be in, I think this can only be a good thing in the long run. Most people are willing to accept data being stored about them as long as they understand why and it is providing them with a clear benefit. I know I am. This heightened awareness in the public will surely allow us to push the boundaries forwards in the future in terms of personalisation. And for those who initially opt out…well they will soon be converted when they realise how good an experience they can get if they embrace these technologies.

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