cookies and Google Analytics

ga blog post cookies spring 2011Privacy issues have long been the subject of debate where the web is concerned and a lot of hinges on the way they are used – and abused.

I have a lot of sympathy with the privacy campaigners but I also realise that the way that websites have developed means that increasingly sites need to use cookies to function properly, and most importantly in a way that visitors both want and expect.

The BBC website has published a very interesting article on forthcoming European legislation that will require a website to gain ‘explicit consent’ from visitors before collecting information using cookies.  Cookies used in shopping baskets will be exempt – a message asking if your customer on an ecommerce site if you can collect information about what he wants to buy would be just plain silly.

The aim of the legislation is I believe to curtail the use of ad tracking software and any kind of nefarious use of cookies.  Very few of us would have any issue with the the latter and there is a possible to good argument for the former.  But like a lot of modern legislation, it sounds as though it is not well crafted.

Presumably every time you do a search on Google and then click through to a site,  the site will seek your permission to use a GA tracking cookie.  Now that might be OK once or twice – but every time you do a search on Google………..!

And of course if you visit a site and say no you do not want it to collect cookie information, then the site cannot use a cookie to remember your preference which means the next time you access it, you will be asked again.  I can just imagine the laptop being thrown out of the window as your favourite holiday site asks for the 1000th time whether it can set a cookie, I’ve told you that a 1000 times already.

Oh dear, back to my bandwagon.  All legislators should be required to take extensive courses in both history (so they stop making the same mistakes) and technology (so they understand what they are doing).

There is also the question of enforcement.  Who will enforce it?  Will the resources be available to enforce anything other information collection for fraud, scams and other blatantly criminal purposes.  This type of regulation also comes into conflict with the international nature of the web.  Will a US site being accessed in the Europe take any notice of this latest bit of Brussels beaurocracy.

In short, a good idea poorly thought out and poorly crafted.

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