Have you ever wondered how websites remember who you are?
It’s because they use a simple technology called “cookies“. A cookie is a tiny snippet of text that gets stored on your computer when you visit a website.
The website keeps a database of those cookies, matching cookies with user details. That’s how your online supermarket or bank is able to welcome you by name every time you visit it.
Cookies are everywhere. They’re used by almost every commercial website you’re likely to visit, and by quite a few non-commercial ones too.
They’re the unsung heroes of the web, saving users from the thankless chore of re-identifying themselves every time they return to a site they use often.
The Euro legislation insists that all cookies are approved by each and every website user before they’re set.
What’s upset a lot of web developers is that the the rules aren’t very clear. There are exceptions for “essential” cookies – but how do you define “essential”? Interpretations are going to differ.
There’s been so much fuss about the changes that the Information Commissioner’s Office has issued additional guidelines, and says it will allow a year for website developers to get to grips with it all.
In the meantime, though, the ICO’s own website has been changed to conform to the rules. It now sports a banner, declaring:
Visitors are then asked to click a checkbox to say that they accept cookies from the site.
Doing so, of course, sets a cookie on their computer.
But so does not doing so. Even if you don’t want cookies from the ICO, one will still be stored on your computer. That one doesn’t need your permission, because it’s deemed “essential”.
We’re pleased that the ICO has allowed our industry a year’s grace to investigate this further. None of us want to break the law – but neither do we want to break the web, and make it harder for people to use.