Hand in the Cookie Jar
My coverage of US affairs regarding tech and digital privacy, coupled with Europe’s reputation for being a bit more progressive when it comes to these matters, might make people think that only the US government makes awful choices when it comes to the internet. Fear not, friends, for tragic misunderstanding of the digital world is a universal truth. Today, we’re taking a look at the UK’s plan to scrap cookie consent boxes and why it’s an obviously bad idea.
What’s This About?
Unless this is your first foray into the vastness of the internet, you’ve likely heard of cookie consent boxes. They are pop-ups at the bottom of websites that ask if you want to accept all cookies or only some. Thanks to the GDPR, people in the European Union get them on pretty much every website. Some people simply click ‘Accept All’ every time, which isn’t a great idea from the point of data privacy. Others often scour every line of text in that pop-up and its submenus to make sure they’re making an informed choice. Regardless of what approach one uses, though, the important thing is that you, as a user, have a choice. You have the power to manage your data and decide whether you trust a website with it. And, should you be the type to prioritize data privacy, you can easily say no to cookies, without the need for many extra steps.
Well, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has decided that this is all way too much for users to handle. Instead, they have a plan that involves simply removing those pop-ups and making cookies opt-out, instead of opt-in. That should sound familiar to Americans, as that’s pretty much what we already get. If you want your data to not be chewed up by the algorithms and targeting, you have to make explicit requests and, in some cases, you don’t even have that power.
Why is This Bad?
Having to opt out of anything, including cookies, makes it much less likely that people will actually do it. The idea that visiting a site privately requires you to open it, then navigate to whatever menu they have for opting out of cookies, then tick all the right boxes? Exhausting. Contrast that with being able to simply say ‘No’ to most cookies once you open a website and you can see how a casual internet user will simply not bother themselves with all that clicking. It’s a decision that aligns with the interests of websites instead of the user and it would move the UK away from EU standards closer to what we have in the US.
The only effective way to keep your data private when cookies are on an opt-out model is to simply have extensions on your web browser, ones that will do all the work for you, removing cookies after each visit and putting websites that try to collect a bit too much info into quarantined “containers”, which can’t grab data from any other activity you engage in. Relegating comfortable and private internet use to the past just to “streamline” the process is a fool’s gambit. It will not make for a better experience for anyone but the advertisers.
It is not yet too late to change course, thankfully. The DCMS can consider the benefit that users get from having control over their data and act in their interest, eschewing any thoughts of boosting advertisers and revenues. Prioritizing the people over the corporations would be the smart choice here.