Let’s face it the web can be a dangerous place. There are online scams. There are viruses. There’s phishing. There’s cookies, remember them? Crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. While cookies are not likely to be exclusively implicated in any of the nasties above, because they can be used to personalise and improve the user experience they may also be used to gather information about you, by third parties, which maybe you didn’t realise.
And because most of us haven’t a clue how the web works, let alone change the settings in our browser, we all need to be much more aware. If you don’t know how to reinstate your home page, reset your default search provider or get rid of all those pesky toolbars that have insinuated themselves, then you need help.
You need Government to make a law to stop this from happening without you knowing.
Consent used to be implied, just like going into a shop you accept that the store’s CCTV will record your images. Now you will have to say – “sure that’s fine for my data to be stored”.
The trouble is there is no real alternative (aka Hobson’s Choice). Don’t want cookies then do not use the website in question or turn cookies off or delete them afterwards. Frankly no one is going to do that are they? It is like changing the privacy settings on your facebook account. (The BBC website does offer to selectively block certain cookies, but I’ll bet most people won’t bother)
Most companies won’t do bad things with cookies; some may gather bits of information on how you use their website, perhaps to show better targeted adverts or just remember you; while others may be profiling you for targeting with more relevant offers, combining it with other info and from other sites you visit; others still may be doing it to track whether a commission should be paid to an affiliate advertiser (e.g. if you are a member of quidco); and others may be doing this somewhat surreptitiously to invade our privacy. Some feel that Facebook and Google are firmly in this department, but they could probably do this without cookies.
Because it is quite new and possibly hazy whether it actually affects you, I predict a bit of confusion. It will be interesting to see just how many companies large and small will comply fully, or whether a general exemption will materialise. It is almost unimaginable that the ICO, the Information Commissioner’s Office will have the resources to chase anyone but a handful of serial offenders.
Unfortunately none of this will not stop real gangsters from stealing our identity or perpetrating real crimes with a victim and physical or financial harm. How many of us ever read the small print before signing up to a service? How many read the small print when taking out a new credit card or a mortgage? Did acres of small print ever prevent previously trusted institutions (Banks) miss-selling Personal Protection Insurance?
As life is too short consenting is much easier, as Alan Carr delightfully explains. This law won’t help us differentiate which services are good, nor make us read those impossibly long T&Cs, including our own, which btw just got longer.