One thing you might have noticed popping up quiet a fair bit online, is the ‘this website uses cookie’ message. This has prompted a lot of people to ask what this means, and more importantly, if their website needs this message.
What are tracking Cookies?
Before we get into the meaning of this message, we first need to explain what cookies are. To put it simply, cookies are used to remember thing about website. For example, your login details, items in your shopping cart, information in a form and your preferred language.
As creepy as it sounds (remembering website information), cookies were created for the user’s convenience. For example, imagine how annoying it would be if you filled out a large online form, clicked submit, got a warning that you missed a field, but all the information you had already filled in had disappear; and you had to go through and fill it all in again. It would be extremely annoying!
This is one of the ‘third world problems’ website cookies solve. However, in recent years, the use of website cookies has been abused to gather and collect information about website visitors users habits. These types of cookies are known as tracking cookies. Tracking cookies remain active even after you leave the origin website.
What are tracking cookies used for?
Tracking cookies are mainly used for advertising purposes, the most popular being retargeted marketing. Retargeted marketing works by placing a special code on a website that tracks what a website a user has visited. If you’ve ever visited a website, and the seen a Facebook ad from the same company in your Facebook news feed, or in other online ads, then you’ve been retargeted to.
This is an over simplified example of how tracking cookies can be used to benefit a business.
- You visit your favourite clothing stores website, and browse through a few items that interest you. While you’re on these pages, your computer ‘picks up’ a tracking cookie in the websites code. The tracking cookie doesn’t know who you are, or your personal details, but it identifies the browser you have viewed the site on.
- The clothing store is paying for retargeted marketing through a provider such as Facebook or Google.
- The next time you’re on Facebook, it detects the tracking cookie stored on your computer. The unique ID of the cookie tells Facebook to display an advertisement chosen by the advertisers (in this case the clothing store owner).
Some businesses are using it to the extent, that they will create individual ads and cookies for every item they sell. This means you could view a pair of shoes on an online store, and later see an ad for the exact same pair of shoes on Facebook.
The problem this creates?
If you weren’t aware companies were doing this, you might feel like your privacy has been seriously invaded. A lot of people don’t want businesses to know what they are looking at online. However, with technology developing so quickly, it was difficult for regulator bodies to keep up.
A lot of people are unaware to the extent that their information is being tracked by websites. So, it is very difficult to create legalisation around these tracking cookies, considering most people don’t even know they exist. In addition, with different governing bodies in every country, it is very difficult to create and implement a global set of website privacy laws. This makes controlling this activity very difficult.
The Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal
The early 2018, Cambridge Analytica harvested data from millions of Facebook accounts without their consent. This data was gathered with the intention of swaying American voters during the Clinton vs Trump election. The information gathered enable Cambridge Analytica to profile Facebook users accounts based on interested, to display political advertisements that would be considered most appealing to them.
The Introduction of General Data Protection Regulation
After the scandal, there was a lot more emphasis placed on user privacy. On the 25th of May 2018, the GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation was introduced. It sets strict regulations on how personal data must be handled and comes with heavy fines for those who fail to comply.
Who needs to display the cookie consent banner?