A cookie is a generally quite small text file, which is downloaded onto your computer when you visit a website. Cookies are in place on a good percentage of sites, often for useful purposes, such as remembering your preferences.
They can be for more intrusive purposes and not belong to the site you visit, perhaps to third party advertisers. This type of practice has resulted in European legislation, to be enforced by bodies in individual countries.
In the UK, cookies are governed by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The Regulations were revised in 2011 and implemented after a grace period in May 2012.
Elements of cookie use also come under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implemented in 2019, where the standard of consent is far higher.
Cookies In Practice
Beyond files a web browser normally downloads, a few systems require what are known as strictly necessary cookies, so you can use the website. They are deemed unavoidable and require no consent.
The next least intrusive are cookies used to anonymously monitor traffic and behaviour, often Google Analytics. They help providers to understand their traffic, perhaps improve their websites, personal information is not collected.
Whether this type of cookie should require consent is a much debated topic and whilst enforcement is negligible, in principle they do require consent. You can incidentally use this plugin to opt out of Google Analytics across the web.
The next grade of cookies bring a range of intrusiveness and in the main, are there to track your individual web behaviour. The delivery of targeted advertising, or services is the most common reason.
Whilst helpful to advertisers, or occassionally users, they can be more invasive than is realised and at times, make the web less helpful. Neither are warnings always in place, or they may be unexplained, blanket consent requests.
You can read further information on the Information Commisssioner’s page dedicated to cookies and follow helpful links.
Most modern web browsers let you change cookie settings, to give you more control. Help sections for popular browsers are:
- Cookie management Chrome
- Cookie management Firefox
- Cookie management Safari
- Cookie management MS Edge