Brexit, the behemoth of unknowns. Six weeks on and we’re still grappling at what it means to leave the European Union. Amid the confusion, let’s reel things in and ask the topical question – how will Brexit affect my day-to-day browsing? What does leaving the EU mean for online privacy? Does it spell the death of cookie notices? While we’re there, what on earth are cookie disclaimers?
What Are Browser Cookies?
If you use the internet, you’ll be familiar with messages that pop up and ask you to accept cookies. You might also be familiar with clicking ‘agree’, if only to rid yourself of these notices while you browse a website. Perhaps you did mere moments ago when you arrived here – sorry.
Cookies are small text files placed on visitors’ computers. They allow websites to store information about users’ behaviour in order to create a personalised browsing experience. Have you ever wondered how your preferences are preloaded when you book a journey? Or how a website welcomes you back when you load a new session?
The film Minority Report, with its depictions of personalised, holographic adverts, has long been held as a bastion for 21st century advertising. When Tom Cruise was offered a pint of Guiness in that shopping mall, the holographic robot was probably using cookies. Cookies of the eyes, but cookies nonetheless.
It’s All About Permission
Cookies are like turning up to a party and having your favourite drink thrust into your hand. EU policy has the doorman ask “can I follow you around so I can predict what you’d like to drink next time?”. They have to. Websites are required by European law to ask users what data they consent to having stored about them online. This is why you get that annoying pop-up.
Concerns For Privacy
While on the one hand cookies make our web experience more personal by remembering our preferences, they raise the issue of internet privacy. For some, tailored commercial content sound great. For others, it’s creepy as hell. To placate this, in 2011 the EU introduced legislation that compels websites to obtain their visitors’ consent on storing such data. In short, websites should:
- Inform the public that cookies exist
- Explain what these cookies are doing
- Obtain the visitor’s consent to store a cookie on their device
What Does Leaving The EU Mean For Cookies?
It’s early days, and nobody is certain where Brexit will lead us. However, the signs suggest that leaving the European Union probably won’t spell the end of cookie notices for British websites.
Truth is, cookies warnings are now written into domestic law; the EU rules are mirrored by the UK’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. Getting rid of the notices wouldn’t just require Britain to leave the EU, it would require the law to be re-written or scrapped altogether.
Cookies are an essential part of the internet and a key to crafting a unique experience for every user. Reacting to this, data laws protect users’ personal privacy. The UK has made its commitment to data protection laws clear, so for the time being it seems things will stay much the same.
What Does The Law Actually Say?
Consent should be given by a clear affirmative act (…) This could include ticking a box when visiting an internet website, choosing technical settings for information society services or another statement or conduct which clearly indicates in this context the data subject’s acceptance of the proposed processing of his or her personal data. Silence, pre-ticked boxes or inactivity should not therefore constitute consent.
Accepting cookies is opt-in, which might worry some sites as we know how fickle internet users can be. On the plus side, everyone has to do it, and at this point people barely even notice cookie disclaimers. Once users have given their consent, websites can focus on offering them the best experience possible. That includes this one – thanks for reading, and bye for now.
By Bruce Sigrist in: Discussion