The Big Ideas Collective Macaroons

The BIG cookie debate

Data security expert and BIG Associate Pete Finnigan helps to throw some light on the issue of ‘cookies’ on websites and why we need to understand the current UK law.

“Cookies are small text files that are placed on your device or computer by a website or read from your device by a website. They contain only text and are usually used to remember something…” and that’s the key – they remember what pages you viewed, what links you clicked on, tracking your every move in some cases.

The proliferation of cookies has become an issue because their use can mean undue or, as some feel, unacceptable intrusion into people’s web browsing habits and how the use of this information then shapes what they see in future. Often this can be helpful, often it can be annoying. The real point being, to date we haven’t been given the choice to opt out of allowing this to happen. Today, if the website you are browsing is complying with the law, you can. Many companies are now seeking to be compliant, the result of which varies hugely, some are ignoring the law or simply waiting to see what competitors do.

What’s our advice?
As a website owner you are responsible for all content on your site(s) and that includes first party cookies (your own) and third party cookies (streamed from a site you don’t own i.e. You Tube/Vimeo/Face Book/Vebra etc.). Choosing to ignore the law may not land you in hot water; there are millions of websites and, in all likelihood, the ICO isn’t going to fine you. But we advise all our clients to address the issue because it matters. Why?

1.     You demonstrably show you understand privacy issues and value your site visitors.

2.     You demonstrably show you care how you present your website and services.

3.     You demonstrably underline that you operate as an ethical business.

4.     Did we mention it’s the law? (See no. 3)

What you can do…
You can identify the cookies on your site by contacting your web developers to check and list them. You can try to check it yourself through browsers like IE and Firefox or you can commission a commercial audit. On discovering and understanding what you have you can document and amend your privacy policy and place a cookie alert on your web pages to inform your visitor, importantly giving them the option to opt out of non-essential cookie use if they wish.

Good sites for further information: www.ico.gov.uk   www.aboutcookies.org

Once your policy and solution is in place, we advise an annual ‘MOT’, performing a website cookie check as part of your annual web hosting renewal.