EU at last realise their Cookie legislation annoyed just about everyone

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The European Commission has proposed new cookie legislation which would consign the pointless cookie pop-ups and banners (which they foisted upon us back in 2013) to the rubbish bin. This was when it was decreed that web users were required to offer explicit consent when receiving cookies, even though the web had run on cookies since 1995.

The Information Commissioner busied himself running around checking websites had complied with banners, headers, footers or pop-ups. A plethora of companies emerged offering ever more annoying ways to make sure your website user experience was degraded with intrusive cookie notifications and amazingly people paid them for it.

Then, realising the pointlessness of it all, the Information Commissioner rescinded earlier guidance and decided that web users offer “implied consent” when they use the web and the banners and pop-ups weren’t really needed. Today however thousands of websites still have cookie warnings and they’re more of an annoyance than any practical use.

Finally the EU themselves have at least seen the light and realised that a cookie notification on every website that uses cookies (which means every website on the Internet) is a stupid thing and so a new decree is being issued with the European Commission declaring “The so called ‘cookie provision’, which has resulted in an overload of consent requests for internet users, will be streamlined“.

It’s all due to change in 2018 with a new set of cookie rules (which once again will probably exasperate us all).

The good news on cookies

The good news is that website owners will be able to use cookies to run the web in the way that consumers expect it to work. The proposal clarifies that no consent is needed for non-privacy intrusive cookies such as to remember what you’ve just added to the shopping cart so that you can actually buy stuff! Cookies set by a visited website counting the number of visitors to that website will also no longer require consent.

The bad news on cookies

The bad news (from the point of view of an ecommerce merchant) is that companies like Google, Facebook, Skype and even Google’s Gmail will no longer be able to set cookies without permission. This means they won’t be able to track consumers across the web and serve targeted adverts unless you decide to let them.

For ecommerce, this means retargeting adverts will be nigh on impossible unless a consumer gives permission to be tracked. Companies will still be able to serve generic adverts, but they won’t be able to tailor them to users unless those users say yes to cookies. Even eBay and Amazon will have to toe the line with their targeted ad campaigns.

Breaking the rules could see companies fined anything up to 4% of their annual turnover.

How will users be expected to give their permission?

Rather than the annoyance of agreeing to cookies on every website you visit, it’s expected that you’ll set your Internet wide preferences at the time you install a new browser. You might agree once to block all cookies, allow all cookies, or just to block cookies from third parties and advertisers. Once you’ve set your preferences you’ll be good to go and can browse the web uninterrupted by a constant stream of pop-ups begging for permission to set a cookie…

…Unless of course that is that you decide to block cookies in which case you’ll have to manually change your cookie settings for every single website that needs to set a temporary cookie in order to operate. For instance if you want to log into webmail you’ll be prompted for an exception. Perhaps your child is doing their MyMaths homework and to log in they’ll have to set an exception to allow cookies. You want to play a game or do an online crossword and you’ll need cookies. Remember most of the web doesn’t work without remembering little bits of information about you even if it is transient and only for the session until you close your browser.

Will the new rules be any better than the old ones?

Ultimately I predict that these changes will be pointless, all but the most pigheaded of users will give in and change their browser setting across the board to allow cookies. The people that don’t (probably the people who today set their browser to clear cookies on exit and then wonder why websites forget their preferences) will complain like mad that the web is incredibly frustrating because they’ll have to change cookie settings for just about every website they visit.

I can’t help thinking that the days when we didn’t know our privacy was being invaded by tech companies who mercilessly tracked our web usage and bombarded us with highly relevant targeted adverts was a good thing. It still happens today, it’s just slightly galling to have to click the box to give them permission to do so.

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