Macarons are so much nicer than cookies
I’m not being totally disrespectful to cookies. There are some nice ones, but living in France I have now acquired a taste for macarons. The colours, the different flavours… Hmm, I’m going a bit off track here, because I should really be talking about browser cookies, and even they’re not all bad.
Following my article about Website Legalities and business websites having to display a cookie notice, I had a couple of questions from worried website owners. Personal Blog owners too should take heed because you also have to comply with the privacy laws.
What are browser cookies?
They’re not particularly dangerous and they can’t be used to steal your personal data. In fact browser cookies are generally harmless.
They store login details and other little bits of information on your computer from the different websites you have visited.
The information can only be read by the website that made the cookie, and it can only store details that you have given it. It can’t be used to get any other personal data from your computer.
How does Amazon know what I’m looking for?
Well, let’s use Amazon as an example. When you log into your Amazon account it stores the details you entered and shows you everything related to your account. The Amazon website also stores a cookie on your device that tells them what items you viewed last time you were there. So it’s only reading and sharing with you the information you gave it before.
In theory, a website could store your credit card as a cookie, because you gave it that information. But only the website where it’s stored can read it. Therefore the only real ‘danger’ is if someone physically has access to your computer because they can read the info. To be on safe side though, you should only provide personal and financial data to websites that you trust 100%.
Is a cookie a virus?
No, cookies are NOT viruses and no, you cannot catch coronavirus online either. (Believe me, I have seen that asked in one of the browser forums). Cookies are just simple text files. They can’t make copies of themselves and spread to other networks so they cannot be defined as a virus. They could be used as a form of spyware though because they store information about browsing history. That’s why a lot of anti-spyware products regularly flag cookies up for deletion.
Responsible web developers
Now we’re getting down to the privacy issues side of things. Responsible web developers will provide clear descriptions of how cookies are used on their site. There are different types of browser cookies, some are necessary and useful and can’t be refused, others such as third-party cookies usually get created if you frequent websites that display adverts from another website. Again these are not really bad cookies, because they help advertisers keep track of how many people are seeing their ads and whether a particular ad campaign is effective. Cookies can also limit the number of times as advert is shown and display ads in a particular order.
The legislation about using cookies for storing information came into force in May 2011.
All new and existing business websites have to be compliant. And it’s not all the responsibility of your web hosting service. They can provide cookie data about their website but not yours, especially if you add links to other websites.
There are sites such as CookieBot which can analyse and report back on the cookies it finds on your website and tell you how intrusive they are. Then you have to decide how you use that information and the best way to obtain a user’s consent.
As a responsible business website owner you must:
- inform users of the purpose of cookies,
- obtain their consent,
- provide users with a way to refuse them.
And if users do give their consent it is only legally for a period of 13 months maximum.
There are a number of WordPress plugins for cookie notices and plenty of websites out there offering to scan your site, continue to monitor it and provide bespoke cookie policies. Check out CookieBot and Termly.io
All this talk about cookies has got me thinking about macarons again. I’m gutted that the lock-down stopped me from attending a macaron baking workshop with Keith at Jambon de Printemps last month. But I’ll be the first to sign up for the class when everything gets back to normal.
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