Before anyone asks, the EU cookie directive has nothing to do with biscuits or baked products. Coming into force in May 2012, the directive will affect web site owners worldwide. The new law will require all websites to ask their visitors if they can store information about them. In layman’s terms this means that when you’re browsing a website, information will be stored as a text file (a cookie) on your computer so it can remember who you are. This can be helpful to users who fill out forms online. Web sites will remember everything you entered so that when you refresh the browser it doesn’t force you to re-enter all the information again.
Websites also collect data so they can remarket or retarget users with advertising. For example if you are researching holidays to New York, the travel web site you are on will store data about your visit to the site and retarget you with adverts to remind you of their low prices or deals.
Media technology companies also collect data around the web and sell this to advertisers so they can target existing or new consumers (these are often called 3rd party cookies, where a website is allowing another company to collect data on its behalf). For instance, when you visit a travel website and look for beach holidays, you will be categorized according to the content you viewed. The media company will then sell this data so that advertisers can target their advertising to inform you that beach holidays are on special offer this month. This is called ‘behavioural targeting’. These same media technology companies are not only collecting online data but also offline data from the likes of Experian. This facilitates the matching of your offline purchasing habits to your online behaviour.
Cookies are very important to help the web work better, however some people have become wary of the amount and purpose of the data being stored. There is a feeling that consumers should be given the choice as to whether or not their data is collected The EU cookie directive will mean visitors to a web site will be prompted on the web site or within adverts if they would like to switch off cookie targeting. You can easily delete cookies from your PC with a few simple clicks. However, this needs to be done on a regular basis and people invariably forget or choose not to do this. There are also many tools out there which you can download (Ghostery being one) which tell you who is collecting your data.
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