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Cookies Make Me Skinny

by Jo Shaer, on September 25, 2012

The more advanced the technology gets, the more Cookies seem to get deposited on the websites. And, because our coding colleagues in the US don't have the same legislation restrictions, they don't seem to care very much when they design the plugins which are supposed to be labour saving devices for those of us who can't code so well.

Where are the Cookies?

The growth of cookies was brought home to me when I was working on an old website that had lain dormant for a year. It showed no cookies. The instant I updated the three existing plugins, six cookies appeared!

And checking up some of my other Wordpress websites, I discovered that it was the default theme itself that contained the most. Quantcast is a website which looks into user behaviour. As far as I am aware, it has no links to Wordpress but its cookies are all over any websites that use the free Wordpress themes. And the website owners get to see none of this information. It is being gathered, presumably to be sold as research to advertisers or anyone else who is willing to pay for it.

Other cookies that I found were ones which predicted the value of my website and the amount of daily and monthly advertising revenue it could earn, based on the number of visitors. Again, this information is of no value to either me or my clients, since that is not an avenue that most people want to exploit on their business website. It just looks a bit cheap.

The root of this problem is the EU Cookie Laws. I can understand that people want to know what is happening to their private data but the majority of cookies monitor user behaviour anonymously - on behalf of someone else. Google Analytics is the main culprit and the Social Media plugins must also be able to register more information because they are then able to share the fact that you have liked or +1d something to your friends. However, none of this information is in the hands of the website owners. It is all about Google and Facebook and advertising revenue.

Which is fine. Until it starts to impinge upon the ability of business owners to run their websites. When it becomes necessary to put warning signs on websites that personal data may be captured, that affects the number of people who want to look around your website. That also affects the potential for the website to be a business-gathering opportunity. That makes owning a website a less attractive proposition.

Why cookies are making me lose weight

And that's when web designers like me start running around like a headless chicken trying to find ways for visitors to be able to share socially but not feel as if they have just sold their personal data to the devil.

The whole idea of social media is supposed to be to allow people to share stuff. If they cannot share the websites or the content that they like, it's only doing half a job. The way social media cookies work are that, if you are logged in to one of your profiles, it will share your like or retweet on your wall or in your stream. If it doesn't know who you are, it's hard to do that. So it has to keep your information for the time it takes to perform that process. The rise of the little digital counters next to the share buttons makes one ask if that information is retained after you have left the site... or is it just a counter?

Complying with the Cookie Laws

And there seem to be very few solutions. You either tell people and ask for their consent with an obvious yes or no button or you list all the devices that could be collecting data and hope that most people will carry on using the site without physically giving consent. But the real problem here is that the legislation is so wishy washy. I'm a law abiding person, I really want to comply but if no one else is, then why be the only one who loses business as a result?

Silktide have gone with the latter option. They have listed the cookies on their site and what they are for but they have removed the consent button and the powers that be have allowed this to stand.

Phil Sorrell has also gone with a list of what is being used under the header Cookies In Use in his navigation bar.

If, however, you do want to show a consent button on your site, Silktide have also come up with a handy script which goes just before the code in your header.

I guess it is only a matter of time before the developers start to understand the situation affecting their European counterparts but, in the interim, it is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Topics:social mediaWeb DesignLocal Business MarketingWordpress Tutorials

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