If you’ve visited other parts of the internet besides this blog, you will have noticed lots of websites displaying messages about cookies. The messages vary, but most either ask you click something to agree to these cookies, or tell you that you are agreeing if you continue.
We are all now routinely alerted to this issue and most people don’t understand the consequences. If you find it intrusive when adverts follow you round the internet, you should know that this practice, called “retargeting”, normally depends on cookies that can’t legally be used without your consent.
Here’s how this strange situation arose:
- In 1994, a technical feature was added to web browsers to let websites to store information
- Websites used this feature for many purposes, most of which were innocuous
- Some companies used this feature to track users covertly in order to make advertising more profitable
- In 2009, the EU issued a directive to tackle this problem by requiring member countries to stop most cookies (including some innocuous ones) being used without consent
- In 2011, the UK implemented this directive in its own law, putting the Information Commissioner in charge of enforcement
- The Information Commissioner’s Office didn’t immediately comply with the law itself
- Most websites didn’t stop using cookies, but they added banners and popup messages, making users aware of the cookies and asking for consent
Cookies can be used for many other purposes, ranging from remembering website preferences through to identifying surveillance targets.