What is the new EU Internet cookie law about?
What are internet cookies?
As well as being delicious biscuits favoured by friendly blue monsters, in computing terms ‘cookies’ are small text files that record data about your browsing habits and help you to stay logged into your online services like Facebook and your email account.
New EU laws say users should be given the option to consent to websites tracking their behaviour in this way and storing cookie files on their computers. We're here to help you understand the implications of this new law and how it might impact on your personal web browsing experience.
There are two main types of cookies:
These small data files record information to help you log into websites and remain logged in. They remember things like your username and password, also regularly typed information like your mobile number and shipping address, storing your details in a cookie on your computer.
Tracking cookies and third-party tracking cookies
Tracking cookies, like the ones used by certain shopping websites for example, can also be used to compile longer term records of your web browsing history in order to serve up relevant ads, which is a privacy concern. For example, a shopping website might store a cookie with your basket items and goods you've browsed, then show you relevant items to entice you back to the shop.
Tell me about the new EU cookie laws - what’s changing?
Although cookies cannot carry viruses, and cannot install malware on your computer, certain kinds of cookies, called tracking and third-party cookies, can be used to make long-term records of your browsing history, which is a major privacy concern that prompted European and US law makers to take action.
With the new regulation in place, you'll start to notice websites providing you with more information on what data is being captured, and, crutially, giving you the option to say no to this. You can opt out before any information is stored, something which until now would take place after the fact.
How to safely allow internet cookies
So is a cookie good or bad? It depends on what the developer created the cookie to do. Authentication cookies are essential tools that allow you to easily log into services, whereas tracking cookies can be used to gather and record your surfing habits for advertisers.
The internet is a free, open place where websites can and do track you to a degree. It’s up to you to decide whether to trust them; if you want to use online services that require you to log in, you may need to allow cookies in order to access essential user features. Cookies aren’t dangerous but they are the reason you start to see tailored adverts for something even after you’ve left a website long before.
To help keep your computer stay relatively clean and to limit any tracking ability sites may have, it’s a good idea to clear out your cookies and browsing history on a regular basis. Programs like CCleaner can do this for you and are completely free.
How to clear your cookies and browing history manually:
- Click the spanner in the top right corner > settings > history > clear all browsing data
- Tools > internet options > browsing history > delete
- Click the 'Firefox' button in the top left > clear recent history > everything