For the half-year to 30 June 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Alberto Bellan, Darren Meale and Nadia Zegze.

Two of our regular Kats are currently on blogging sabbaticals. They are David Brophy and Catherine Lee.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Of cookies, crumbs and Kats, or "Who is David?"

As readers will be aware, this Kat is interested in the progress and (lack of) implementation of the now infamous EU 'Cookie Directive'. See Katpost here. She was therefore quite surprised this morning, on her way to work, to see a full page advertisement by Google in the London newspaper Metro which attempted to explain what a cookie is and why it is so useful. The text reads as follows:
HELLO
MY NAME IS
David
Hello David. What's your name again?
Imagine having to reintroduce yourself to your friends every time you met them. Your name. Your age. Where you're from. It would take forever, wouldn't it? You only wanted a cup of tea and a catch up.

This is why websites, including Google, use tiny crumbs of stored information (called cookies) to remember your previous visits. That way you don't have to repeat yourself every time you go back.

But it's good to know that if you don't want sites to remember your details, you can clear your cookies in your browser settings.

To find out more about how websites get to know you better, pick up a booklet from your local Citizens Advice Bureau or go to google.co.uk/goodtoknow
So the gist of the advertisement is that, without cookies, websites have no memories. Google also seeks add weight to its efforts by teaming up with the Citizens Advice Bureau.

The IPKat asks readers whether this advertisement is actually an accurate description of cookies and their benefits to online users. Although the metaphor of cookies and crumbs is visually appealing, are web cookies really just 'tiny crumbs of stored information' and by implication of no real significance? To internet businesses, such as Google, which derive substantial income from online advertising, they are certainly not insignificant crumbs. To online users, having important and sometimes private information about them stored and used by third parties for financial gain is surely not insignificant either.

Further, the advertisement puts the onus on online users to opt out of using cookies/having the cup of tea and a catch up with friends. In doing so, Google's advertisement does not mention that the EU Cookie Directive (Directive 2009/136) or its implementation in the UK by Regulation 6 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR) which provides that a website operator requires informed consent from the user before activating cookies. As readers will recall, this amendment came into force on 26 May 2011, but the Information Commissioner's Office stated that website operators have up to one year to ‘get their house in order’. Given that the house needs to be in order by May 2012, is it wise to be advertising a different message in December 2011?

For future reference, this Kat would like it known that any future badge for her should read 'Hello My Name is Fabulous' ...

1 comment:

Jaws said...

That description of cookies is not even close to accurate.

Cookies originated as a lazy programmer's solution to limited storage on website servers. By offloading the storage onto the visitor, there was no need for a separate data store with constant updates (and thus disk thrashing and all the other electromechanical ills of dynamic information that must nonetheless be stored for an indefinite period) on the website's own server... nor risk, during the era of dialup communications, of forgetting too much when a connection got dropped and then reestablished. Instead, all of this was offloaded onto the user.

And it goes downhill from there.

"Cookies" are more like "breakfast cereal", in that they're loaded with all kinds of nastiness and unpronouncable preservatives -- not to mention sugar, and my computer system is a Type II diabetic -- hiding behind the ballyhooed vitamin fortification. They are a lazy programming solution and externalization of a cost onto the visitor. And contrary to the protestations of their advocates, they're rather easy to use for some rather nefarious purposes... even by those who are not the originator of the cookies.

Then, too, think for a moment about the physical world equivalent of cookies. In addition to the surveillance cameras that have been set up all over the shop (and covering the pavement/sidewalk outside), a demand for cookies is the equivalent of being asked to flash your ID at the door of the stop -- even if you're just coming in to see if the shop carries a particular brand of Kat treats in the first place, and have no intention of making a purchase. Leaving aside the privacy implications, this is also bad security practice, because it undermines whatever security might conceivably be enhanced by looking at that ID (such as fake IDs).

Subscribe to the IPKat's posts by email here

Just pop your email address into the box and click 'Subscribe':