What is a website cookie?
No, you won’t find any chocolate chips or macadamia nuts here. Website or computer cookies are like tiny data files that are stored in your web browser which help improve the overall website browsing experience. They can help keep track of things like whether or not you’ve previously visited a website and certain things that happened during your visit. For example, without using a cookie, you would get hit with that same ‘cookie notice’ policy every time you visited a site because it wouldn’t know that you’ve previously been to the site and accepted.
Ever shopped on a website without being logged in and added items to a cart? Cookies are sometimes used to ‘remember’ the items in your cart so that you can keep browsing and shopping the site until you’re ready to check out (or come back later and continue shopping with your cart still in-tact.) Some cookies are session-based and are only used during your current visit, essentially resetting when you leave that site. Or if you’ve ever cleared your cookies, you may have been irritated to find that you’re now logged out of websites you previously stayed logged in to. As you can see, a number of the features we use on websites all over the internet rely on cookies!
Can I get rid of cookies?
Other cookies, called ‘third-party cookies’, are often more flexible. These cookies are generated by another website and can track data across domains. For example, if an organisation utilizes Google Analytics to learn more about how people use their website, this is done through a third-party cookie and allows Google to provide aggregate data on how many people visited a page, clicked on a link, were new vs. returning visitors to the site, etc. Though this may seem less important to a website visitor, the stats help website owners determine what’s working well and what needs to be improved for visitors on a site. Third-party cookies could also come into play when a YouTube video is embedded on a website (meaning you can play the video without needing to leave the site and go to YouTube to watch it). And yes, third-party cookies are also used to help tailor ads that you’re shown wherever you go online so that we can be served with more relevant content.
Why all the cookie policies lately?
In May of 2018, there was a piece of legislation that went into effect in the European Union (EU) regarding data privacy of anyone in the EU. Although passed in the EU, the legislation, known as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), applies to anyone who is collecting personally identifiable information of any EU resident. So even if you are a U.S. based business, if you collect information from EU visitors this legislation affects you. Personal information can include anything and everything from names, phone numbers, email addresses, and even IP addresses. The terms of the legislation require transparency of what is being collected and for what purpose, along with collecting consent. Thus, the boom in cookie notices and policies was born. Further, there are rumblings that what the EU did could be a trend followed by other countries in the not-so-distant future.