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A storm in an EC cookie jar

In its infinite wisdom, the EC passed a directive in 2009 that all websites must declare that they are running cookies and give the website visitor the option of opting out of using the cookies.  What appeared to be a great idea at the time of announcement was immediately shown to be unworkable and you have to wonder what expert advice was actually sought before making such a sweeping rule.  Matters came to a head a few weeks ago when the Directive came into force.

For those who are confused as to how baking, the EC and the internet could be discussed in one sentence – a cookie is a small file that records information about the use of a website.  This information can range from simply counting how many people visit the site to storing specific details about movements, habits, identities etc.  Cookies also mean that sites can record visitors’ preferred preferences for how they view the site.

 The Guardian wrote a good article, here, about how cookies are used by the big boys and how it is generally for the consumer’s benefit (I rolled my eyes at a few of the justifications for monitoring our use, but generally it is pretty interesting stuff).

At this point, I should declare an interest – we use Google analytics to monitor traffic flow on our website.  This should not be a surprise, pretty much every website does this.  It helps us to know how many people look at each page and where they go on our site until they ‘drop off’ and leave.  We don’t know who you are but we do get figures as to your rough geographical location (hits from Fiji are of less interest to us than hits from the Midlands, just as people hitting our homepage and then going nowhere else would suggest that we could be doing things better).

As the European Directive was drafted, it was suggested that all websites were faced with the choice of not running any analytics at all or running the risk of visitors not being able to use the site before opting in.  Not an ideal scenario for anyone; imagine having to click a pop up box, whether to say yes or no, before looking at any website at all.  That would get boring very quickly.

Needless to say, just prior to the rule coming into force a couple of weeks ago the Information Commissioner released the catchily titled ‘Guidance on the rules on use of cookies and similar technologies.’

To save you the pleasure, this in essence says that as long as we tell you we are running cookies we can take your ‘implied consent’ to continue running them.  This is a much better halfway house to protect internet users from malicious types but allow most websites to operate properly.

Therefore, if you continue to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of Google analytics.  We don’t know where you live.  However, we do know you have visited our site and we are very grateful for that.  Please have a good look around and come again soon.

Mark Baldwin