How intrusive are your cookies?


The new EU law on cookies specifies that websites ask consent before they set a cookie on a user’s machine. The ICO guidelines state that you can still set a cookie if it’s absolutely essential, and give an example of a user on an shopping website clicking to add a product to the basket. Apparently this is fine, but they warn against using the more ‘intrusive’ cookies.

So what does intrusive mean?

The example they give in the guideline is that of a website that uses cookies to collect information about all the websites that a user visits. This is intrusive because it’s effectively tracking a user’s movement through the web, and potentially collecting a lot of information about them including their hobbies and interests, and which products they like to buy.

Intrusive doesn’t always mean it’s bad

Obviously there’s an advantage to using cookies to collect the information we mentioned above, otherwise companies wouldn’t do it. Collecting information about a user’s hobbies and interests means you can display adverts to them that they’ll actually want to see, rather than annoying them with irritating adverts for products they’ll never buy in a million years. We’ve probably all seen this used positively even if you haven’t noticed it. Go to Amazon or another online store and it’ll show you products related to ones you’ve looked at or bought before.

Why do I need to worry if all my cookies are intrusive?

According to the EU, the cookies that we described above are bad – really bad. The more information you collect from users, the more important it is to get consent from the user. They state:

It might be useful to think of this in terms of a sliding scale, with privacy neutral cookies at one end of the scale and more intrusive uses of the technology at the other. You can then focus your efforts on achieving compliance appropriately providing more information and offering more detailed choices at the intrusive end of the scale.

Does this actually matter?

Many people are opposed to this new law, and some people have mocked the new law, including us in this video!

The actual date marking the start of this new directive came and went last May, with many companies ignoring it. But apparently this can’t be the case forever. The ICO has given every website a year to fix these problems, or they might face a hefty fine of £500,000.

This has obviously got some companies worried. Yahoo and Google have implemented a solution for users to opt-out of their advertising cookies. Wolf Software have even created a countdown to the big day in May 2012!

Are there any cookies on your website?

Although the situation is confusing, what is clear is that we’ve all got to be aware of the cookies we use on our websites. The official guidance states that we should:

  1. Check what type of cookies and similar technologies you use and how you use them.
  2. Assess how intrusive your use of cookies is.
  3. Decide what solution to obtain consent will be best in your circumstances.
    ICO Advice on the new cookies regulations

If you’re not sure how many cookies are used on your website, we’ve created a special report in Sitebeam that will give you a breakdown of all cookies on your website.

Using Sitebeam to list your cookies

SiteBeam is our website testing tool that gives you loads of useful information about websites. Enter a web address, and choose the type of information you want, and SiteBeam will find everything it can and display it in a nice handy online report that you can print or share.

There are many types of report that SiteBeam can give you, but if you’re interested in cookies, select the EU ePrivacy report.

Choice of reports in SiteBeamSiteBeam will list all the cookies used on your website, and where they’re used on the website.

Cookie test report

If you want to try Sitebeam for free, sign up for the free trial here.

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