There can’t be many of us who have not wondered almost daily whether the rigmarole of swiping away questionnaires about “cookie preferences” every time we visit a site is really necessary. Few of us take the time to read the small print because we know we won’t understand it.
Cookies, in computer terms, are small text files placed on your phone or PC by website programmers in order to save you having to enter the same information repeatedly. They can also be used to track aspects of your behaviour online and to point “customised” advertising in your direction, but they are benign compared to the many other tools available to programmers.
In fact, the modern internet is so sophisticated in its ability to track our movements that cookies have become insignificant. Trying to stop them at the gate is about as pointless as the little Dutch boy sticking his finger in the dyke, another old European line of defence..
Accepting them by ticking a box ought not to be a major impediment to daily life, but when you find yourself having to do so every few seconds it becomes an irritation to say the least. It may well have helped enshrine the EU’s reputation for pointless bureaucracy among people who already believed that to be the case.
What’s more, the wording is disingenuous. Claiming to “care about your privacy” has been the way some companies have sugared the pill, but what they really care about is invading it.
The good news, however, is that the Government is finally ticking the big box to get rid of all these pesky pop-ups at a single stroke. Now that Britain is no longer part of the EU, we can join the Americans in consuming cookies until we choke on them.
The Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has said that future data laws will be based on common sense – a quality noticeably absent when the Brussels rules were drawn up.
We will see “cookie boxes” disappearing over the next year or so and their removal will be as much a relief to the people who build websites as to the rest of us. They served no purpose in themselves and were a nuisance to implement.
But if you can’t wait for the post-Brexit legislation to take its course, you can strike a blow for independence with an old trick that still works — installing a small app called I Don’t Care About Cookies, an extension to Chrome, Firefox and other modern browsers which automatically hides the cookie warnings on almost any website you visit. It doesn’t block the cookies themselves; it just prevents the websites from telling you about them.
But the app works for the most part on computers only – not on phones. The mobile version of Chrome does not support extensions like this, and although its rival Firefox does, you may think it more trouble than it’s worth to install a completely new browser just for this. iPhones are more complicated still, requiring the installation of AdGuard for Safari and then a cookie blocking feature.
The bottom line here is in managing risk. Cookies are essential to maintaining the functionality you expect from a good website and if you’re determined to do without them, you may as well give up on the internet completely. And while it’s true that they may compromise you in the event of a cyber attack, the same could be said of almost everything else on your hard disk. So whether you accept them automatically or manually, don’t let them concern you.
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