Did you notice the Internet keeps asking about your cookies?

Dear Grandma…

Did you notice the Internet keeps asking about your cookies?

I didn’t have a chance to talk to you before, but you might have noticed that for the last few months any website you go to has been asking you about your cookies. Usually these messages are so inconspicuous that you may not have noticed or automatically clicked to make the message go away.

A sample cookie notice.
A Cookie Notice.  This website notice is not compliant with GDPR because it offers no details about how the site uses cookies. 
(Source: cookiebot.com)

Now it’s not that everyone on the Internet is suddenly interested in your baking (though if they ever tasted it, I know they would be). A “Cookie” is the name for a tiny little file that each website leaves behind on your computer when you visit them. This is how each website can keep notes about you and what they know about you – and keep it all on your personal computer – for the next time you visit them. It also saves them from having to keep all kinds of information about you on their system. It’s how they remember your name and which of their pages or products you’ve looked at before.

At first this might sound a little odd; every website you visit is keeping tabs on you and using your own computer to do it. This situation wasn’t too bad when cookies were first used. Think about when you’re shopping in your favorite stores. It’s really nice when a sales clerk remembers you and says “Hi Mrs. S! How are you? Are you enjoying the new baking trays you bought from us last time? Have you seen our latest sales flyer for our new line of baker’s tools?”. Most of the time these websites you visit are just using these “cookie” files to make sure they remember you and give you personalized service. That way you also don’t have to remind them who you are every single time you visit them. Also, only those websites you choose to visit can get permission to leave cookies on your computer.

It has become more complicated over the last few years, as websites started to use advertising companies to place ads on their sites instead of bothering to setup advertisements themselves. Now all they do is put boxes on their web pages which another company fills with advertisements. But in effect what is happening through those boxes is that you’re visiting the advertiser’s website without knowing it. That gives the advertiser the ability to put their own cookie on your computer too.

Now the tracking can become much more intrusive. Those ad sites can use the same cookie every time you visit one of their advertising clients, which means they are tracking your behavior across all of them. Using our store clerk example again, it’s like somebody who works for a whole bunch of stores or restaurants or whatever follows you around quietly, without you seeing them, tracking every time you visit those places, noting every item you look at, recording everything you did… and they know who know exactly who you are.

Sounds creepy right? Here’s the thing…. cookies have been around a long time. (No, not the other ones, we’re still talking about computer cookies) so why is it only this year that we’ve seen all these websites popup a message about using cookies? Well that’s because recently, the governments in the European Union decided that these little cookies could be a risk to Internet users who didn’t know about them or understand them. So, when the EU drafted up a new law called the General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR) to protect the rights of Internet users, they included something there about cookies. The EU told everyone that when their website can combine all that tracking information to profile a person’s behavior and identify that individual person through their device (computer, cellphone, etc.) without that person’s knowledge or explicit permission, well that’s a bad thing. Its Personal Information, and that is something that must be guarded for all citizens. The GDPR levels the playing field and aims to ensure that all website owners and organizations know they are responsible and accountable for protecting the privacy of EU citizens.

A second sample cookie notice.
A GDPR-compliant cookie notice
(Source: cookiebot.com)

Now if you’re wondering why an EU law affects us here in Canada, that’s because it affects the whole world. Unlike the real world, the Internet has few boundaries, so when an EU citizen logs onto a Canadian, or British or Mexican website… then these protection laws for their citizens apply. That’s why most websites worldwide, to avoid grief with the EU, comply with this law even if a person visiting them is not from the EU. It’s also simpler and legally better for all those websites to ask every visitor if they understand and accept cookies, rather than try to figure out who is coming from the EU specifically.

After reading their notices, what if you don’t want their cookies? Until you agree, or decide to leave that website, that site cannot save cookies on your computer without breaking the law. Neither can their advertisers.

There are other ways to control cookies directly from your computer’s browser. By default, these switches are set to allow cookies, but you do have a choice! There are places in each kind of browser where you can change these settings this to increase your level of privacy. If you want to know more about this look in the Cool Grandma Tips below.
Hope that helped. I love how you’ve jumped onto using computers and keeping up to date with the world. You’re giving your grand-kids a run for their money!


Cool Grandma Tips:

Where to find cookie controls in your browser

  • Chrome – this uses a simple built-in web page chrome://settings/content – just click on this link
  • Microsoft Edge – press [ALT]-[x], choose “Settings” from the menu that appears, scroll down and choose [View Advanced Settings], scroll down to cookies
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer – press [ALT]-[x], choose “Internet Options” choose the Privacy tab at the top, and the click on the [Advanced] button.

What you can set for cookies (regardless of browser)

  • If you never want websites leaving cookies on your computer, choose “Never” for both 1st party and 3rd party cookies, then save your settings. Just remember this might be inconvenient – websites will never remember you or your preferences when you come back!
  • If you want to allow websites you purposely visit to use cookies to remember your and your habits there, then choose “1st Party Cookies” and save your settings.
  • If you want to allow 3rd party advertisers on the websites you visit to use cookies to track you across many websites, then choose “enable” or “on” or “allow” for 3rd party websites and save your settings.

GDPR: General Data Protection Regulation

Super Grandma Tips

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