What are web cookies?

Review your website cookies policy and terms and conditions, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will monitor sites to make sure that they comply.

Most modern websites use cookies.

From May 2012 law required all websites that use cookies to seek your consent.

Web cookies are simple files that are saved on your computer or mobile browser while visiting a website. The cookie is a ’text files’ which you can open and read using the text editor (Notepad on PC or TextEdit on Mac). Cookies are NOT programs. They don’t do anything at all.

Typically, they contain two pieces of information; a site name and unique user ID. It is like a sticker left on your computer that has a unique number printed on it. That number can be identified by a website. Web cookies are can also be known as HTTP cookie, Internet cookie, or browser cookie.

How do they work?

When you visit a site that uses cookies for the first time, a cookie is downloaded onto your device (computer, tablet, mobile, TV). The next time you visit that site, your device checks to see if it has a cookie that is relevant (that is, one containing the site name) and sends the information contained in that cookie back to the site.

The site then ’knows’ that you have been there before, and in some cases, tailors what pops up on screen in response to this fact. It can be helpful for varying the content according to whether this is your first visit – or your 71st.

The good thing about cookies…

Some cookies are more sophisticated. They might record your preferences for page layouts (e.g. don’t show me sport related news). They can also be used to store data on what is in your ‘shopping cart’, adding items as you click.

The possibilities are endless, and generally, the role of cookies is beneficial for visitors, making your interaction with frequently-visited sites smoother – for no extra effort on your part. Without cookies, online shopping would be much harder.

…and the bad

So why don’t some people like web cookies? The answer probably depends on how you feel about organisations – business or government – storing information about visitors. Unless you have login details (your name or email address and the password) the cookie would not help the website to identify you personally – you will be just a visitor with ID. There is nothing especially secret or exceptional about the information gathered by web cookies. You may, however, dislike the idea of your name being added to marketing lists, or your information being used to target you for special offers. That is your right, which is why you get the option of not accepting cookies.

When cookies first started to appear, there was controversy. Some companies, without warning, were gathering information about you, which could then be used to build a picture of your browsing habits for the re-marketing purpose.

Web cookies and the legal requirements

Most modern websites use cookies in some way. It is unlikely that the majority of internet users even notice cookies working away in the background as they browse from site to site. Until now it has been up to individual users to either block or allows cookies using settings in their internet browser. From the end of May 2012 though, an EU law required all sites that use cookies to seek your express permission to store and retrieve data about your browsing habits.

Most sites will now draw your attention to their cookie policy when you first visit the home page. Don’t be put off by this, you were probably sharing details with the site before without even knowing it. In many cases, you can click to say you understand the cookies policy but in many instances, you can simply ignore the announcement and continue browsing as normal.

Sites will continue to use web cookies and the information they store in order to make your online browsing an easier, more enjoyable experience. Cookies are nothing to be scared of, even if the new prompts seeking your consent might seem a little off-putting for the cautious internet user.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will be closely monitoring sites to make sure that they comply with this new legislation, so there will be no avoiding the regulations.

We stay up to date with the latest requirements for websites.

If you need to update your website’s cookies policy or website terms and condition template call 01296 320820

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