The pointless cookie law

The cookie law is one of the most pointless directives ever. It has resulted in panic, countless hours of work for IT departments and, most of all, a painful user experience on the web. Oh and by the way it did absolutely nothing to ensure privacy or educate people about computer cookies.

I HATE the numerous pop ups I get on many sites warning me of their cookie policy. I, like 99.9999999% of users*, click OK and carry on. The only thing which comes close to being this annoying is the prolific use of CAPTCHA codes to confirm bookings as I just cannot seem to read most of them (maybe I’m a robot?). Granted the annoyance factor of the cookie banners is mostly due to poor design. Like the banner ads of the 90s which were flashing, obnoxious and in your face (and also ultimately useless incidentally as we quickly learned to subconsciously filter them out), these over the top notifications were just not needed. You can hardly blame the companies as inadequate clarification was given from the government on this, but it’s still massively irritating. When some sense did eventually come on January 31st 2013, it was far too late for most without putting even more effort in. Sigh what a waste… This infographic really is the only response to this insanity.

Cookies, for those that don’t know (and doubtlessly you are not the type to read blogs about this sort of thing if you don’t know but anyway) are small pieces of information that many sites save on your computer for use later. Now some of these are useful (they can be used to hold baskets of goods before checkout, to remember usernames and preferences – like you want the UK version of a site, and many other things), many are pretty pointless (and you wonder why web developers bother saving them) and some, well some TRACK you all over the internet. Now this is exactly like a mugger following you home and doing unspeakable things to you in a dark alley. Exactly the same! Well, you know, except it’s not.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are potential issues to cookies – especially for those concerned with privacy. When you search for a baby car seat on Amazon, and then view your favourite news website and see adverts for baby car seats – that’s due to cookies. Now some might argue this is in fact helpful as 1) it’s better than seeing a random advert for something you are mostly likely not interested in, 2) you might be interested in that ad and choose to buy it and 3) the website benefits from this more targeted ad and so can afford to run without charging you more for it’s content. Other’s will argue it’s creepy at the least and gives you an unsavoury feeling about what else it’s tracking. In theory they could be used to track you over the internet (the reality is no one really wants to believe it or not – except to offer you up some ads it thinks you might click on). There’s also the argument about whether you want people to see what ads you get if they borrow your computer or see a screenshot – and this can be more innocent than what you are thinking off by the way! Say for example your girlfriend sees from your ads what you’ve been shopping for her birthday for example. Then again it can also show what a depraved, filthy mind you have…

The problem with the law is that it didn’t stop any of of this tracking – it just put up an annoying pop up which is supposed to make you aware of it but which, like the stupidly lengthy pages of End User Licence Agreement are ignored. All it’s done is make another thing we have to click on which will be ignored. Most of the web would not work without cookies. Some of it can be coded around particularly if you are willing to log in to a site – though in many ways that just moves the problem, from pieces of information stored on your computer which you are in control of, to information stored on a far away server which is more difficult to read. And people don’t read what companies say they’ll do with that information until someone sends round an alarming, and factually incorrect, piece of spam saying that if you type a certain message then Facebook won’t use your personal data.

No doubt the law was well intentioned but, as this recent video shows, when law makers try to get involved in things they have little knowledge of, the results are range from comical to cringe worthy to down right interfering. Many privacy advocates hate the number of CCTV cameras we have, but you don’t see lawmakers making them spring out a 5 square foot warning message every time you enter one’s field of vision. You’d never be able to walk down the street! Well that’s exactly what we have on the Internet now.

So ultimately it has not changed anything – except made the Internet a more annoying place. The 0.0001%* of users who care about this privacy already turn off cookies in their browsers (and live with a substandard internet because of that in my opinion). The larger percentage of IT savvy users who know about cookies accept them and use common sense when browsing the internet to keep safe. And the vast majority of non IT literate people happily send their banal LOLs across Facebook without knowing or caring what a cookie is. In fact if you took them away they’d complain “the internet is broken”. This has not changed with the law.

Ultimately I’m less with Wired UK and more with this site.

*All my stats are made up – just like 93% of statistics on the internet.

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