COOKIES & OTHER TRACKING TECHNOLOGIES: ARE THEY UNWANTED GUESTS?
By: Abhilipsa Panda
Website cookies, GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format), web beacons, and similar tracking technologies are small data files that websites store on a user’s computer or device when the user visits the site. While both common practices and legal regulations vary from place to place, the only legal safe harbor is also the most challenging: obtain the user’s informed consent before using any tracking technology.
Cookies are used to passively track user activity on a website, such as what pages they visit and how long they stay on each page. They can also be used to store information about a user’s preferences or login information for future visits. While cookies can be useful for website owners and users alike, there are also legal and privacy concerns that must be considered. Keeping that in mind, many countries in recent years have either introduced website cookie regulations under their data privacy laws and bills, or are in the process of doing so.
Legalities of Website Cookies
What Are Privacy Concerns with Website Cookies?
One of the main privacy concerns associated with website cookies is the collection and use of personal data. Cookies can be used to track a user’s activity on a website and across multiple websites, which can be used to build a profile of the user’s interests and behaviors. This information can be used for targeted advertising, which some users regard as an invasion of privacy.
Another privacy concern is the potential for cookies to be used to collect sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial information. This can be particularly problematic if the website owner does not take adequate security measures to protect this information from unauthorized access.
How Can Website Owners Protect User Privacy?
Website owners have a responsibility to protect user privacy when using cookies. There are several steps that website owners can take to protect user privacy, such as:
- Obtaining User Consent: Website owners should obtain user consent before placing cookies on their devices. This can be done through a cookie banner or pop-up message that appears when a user first visits the website. The banner should clearly explain what types of cookies are being used and what data is being collected, and users should have the option to opt-out of certain types of cookies if they choose to do so.
- Limiting Data Collection: Website owners should limit the amount of personal information they collect through cookies. They should only collect data that is necessary for the functioning of the website or for delivering a personalized experience to the user. Any data that is collected should be securely stored and protected from unauthorized access.
- Providing Clear Privacy Policies: Website owners should provide clear and concise privacy policies that explain how they collect, use, and protect user data. The policy should be easy to understand and accessible to all users. It should disclose the involvement of a third-party cookie provider (if any).
- Using Secure Cookies: Website owners should ensure that any cookies they use are properly secured. For example, session cookies that are used to store sensitive information should be encrypted to protect against unauthorized access.
- Regularly Review and Update Privacy Policies: Regularly review and update privacy policies to ensure that they remain accurate and up-to-date with any changes in privacy laws and regulations.
Website cookies are not necessarily unwanted guests. In fact, cookies can be very helpful in enhancing the user experience on a website. For example, cookies can be used to remember a user’s preferences, such as their language or font size, so that they don’t have to set these preferences every time they visit the website.
However, there are some types of cookies that can be considered unwanted guests. For example, third-party cookies can be used by advertisers to track user activity across multiple websites, which can be seen as an invasion of privacy by some users. Similarly, session cookies that are not properly secured can be used to collect sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial information, which can pose a security risk for users.