Will you say ‘yes’ to Cookies?
31st January 2012
On 26th May the ICO changed their rules on using cookies and similar technologies for storing information. One of the main changes to these regulations is that the site must get the user’s consent before storing any cookies on their device. A browser is being developed with industry-leaders like Microsoft, Mozilla, Apple, Google, Yahoo and Adobe on board. At the current moment the ICO are just suggesting that doing something is better than nothing, they will not be enforcing any fines for the first 12 months. An example of what should be on every site within 12 months is shown below, with the user having to accept or deny cookies on entry to the site, this will often be in the form of a banner or pop up. For the moment though transparency is the best option.
This new policy could bring difficulties for many companies. Ryan Air could be a potential example of this; there have been many cases where Ryan Air has been accused of using tracking cookies to increase prices for users. This happens when a user searches for flights on their website which is when the cookie is stored in the user’s computer. Should the user then research other flights from different companies then Ryan Air will be able to track them and once the user realises that they are providing the lowest price and go back to their site they are able to up the prices. Ryan Air has denied this on many counts but it has not yet been entirely proved incorrect. If this was to be true then the new policy would mean that visitors to the Ryan Air website could deny the use of these cookies much more easily than with previous policies and would therefore benefit from the original lower prices.
The research that I have carried out has shown that not many of the top websites are really doing that much to comply with the new regulations. The most compliant that I have found, even though they are not officially asking for consent from the user is BBC online who have changed their way of working since May 2011 when the rules came into place. They have published a list of all the main cookies that they use across BBC online and what each is used for. They also offer information on how to control the cookies on computers and mobile devices. The BBC officially said ‘We’ll continue to provide you with clear signposting to the cookies we use on BBC Online, so that you can make informed decisions about them, whilst being able to enjoy the best possible user experience across our web offering.’ It can be expected that many other companies will follow in these footsteps before completely changing their cookie use.
For someone that previously knew basically nothing about cookies this research has taught me a lot, and I imagine that they are many other people out there that previously did not know that they are being tracked on the internet. Once this policy comes fully into force and users have to agree or disagree everyone will be much more aware of which sites are using them, which currently isn’t obvious at all, which is perhaps the main aim of the ICO. There are advantages to cookies though, without them you wouldn’t be able to shop online and your experience on many different websites would be much poorer. So are cookies really that bad? When the 12 months are up and companies have to ask for consent will you be rejecting or accepting them?