Saturday, 26 May 2012

cookies and privacy - who cares?

In response to a BBC article announcing that the UK will now ban tracking-cookies:

1. I do not believe it's practiceable or enforceable. Only high-profile sites will be prosecuted or "helped" to become compliant. Since most browsers these days don't tell you you're getting a cookie unless you ask the browser to do so, only sites where users complain about noncompliance will come to the attention of legislators.

2. Competitors could use this to take each others' sites down by reporting each others' sites and demanding that the site go down till the cookies are sorted out.

3. Cookies are mostly used by smaller companies to keep preferences/settings of a site, and are harmless. It's tracking activities that are questionable, but again, it depends on what you're tracking. Even someone who goes to a dodgy site and gets tracked, well- the fact that they're on that site ANYWAY means that they've got dodgy access records at their ISP anyway, never mind the cookies stored on their computer.

4. Cookies are stored on one's own computer, not the server, so it's trivial to get a cookie cleaner and remove them.

5. A popup asking about cookies will just irritate and confuse novice users and make one's website(s) more annoying and less user-friendly.

6. Who gives a damn what you track of my activities? I have nothing to hide. In fact, tracking activities might be useful for tracking dodgy sites that users go to. By protecting users' privacy you make law enforcement for more serious problems e.g. terrorism/fraud harder to trace.

7. I say it's a silly law designed to waste web designers' time and legislators' time. It's far easier to contact Firefox, Apple, Microsoft, Opera, etc., and tell them to make the cookie acceptance dialog mandatory if the IP address is within the UK. That way you only have to go after a few companies, not every single website on earth.

8. What about cross-border issues? If a web browser in the UK goes to a site in, say, Afghanistan, and views dodgy content there, and gets cookie tracked, well, what are you going to do about it? Your legislation doesn't apply beyond your boundaries!

Legislators persistently fail to understand that local laws are now irrelevant because the Internet does not acknowledge international boundaries. The best you can hope for is to set up a firewall like the 2nd/3rd-world dictatorships have done and prohibit cookie exchanges by those means. Otherwise your users will simply get cookies from everyone EXCEPT the UK, and what percentage of sites does that represent?

 

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