What are cookies?
In simple terms, internet cookies are hidden files that a website can place on a visitor’s computer or device. They can record detailed information about how someone behaves online – remembering who they are, what they like and what they have done previously.
HowStuffWorks describes them as: ‘A cookie is a piece of text that a web server can store on a user’s hard disk. Cookies allow a web site to store information on a user’s machine and later retrieve it.’
Cookies can track when a visitor lands on a website and monitor what they do once there. When that visitor returns, this information can then be used to tailor their experience, automatically tweaking a site to match their preferences.
Cookies that are placed by a website itself are called ‘first party cookies’ and those set by other websites who run content on a website are known as ‘third party cookies’. A website will only be able to get information that has placed onto a visitor’s machine. It cannot retrieve anything from other cookie files, or other information stored on the device.
Why use them?
- A blog/content management system such as WordPress
- A website analytics program such as Google Analytics
- Google AdSense and/or AdWords
- Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or other social media “like” buttons or plugins
- A shopping basket
If you already use, or are considering using Lead Forensics to help accelerate your lead generation, then you don’t need to worry about cookies. The software doesn’t use them, it only uses IP tracking to identify the web visitors that are coming to your site.
UK cookie rules
US cookie rules
Across the pond in the US there are no such rules.
According to an article by Technology Science, Google tracks individuals online more than any other company aside from a user’s Internet Service Provider. They add: ‘Hundreds of third-party hosts also track users, and under the current self-regulatory regime, it is up to users to investigate these companies’ privacy policies and decide whether to use the websites.’
While there may be less regulation in the US, companies need to check that they are complying with EU rules if their services are in any way associated with European markets. Three key issues come into play here, which may mean the rules will apply:
- The location of the company that owns the website is the first consideration.
- The second is where the company’s website servers are located.
- And thirdly, who the intended audience of the website is. Who is it aiming at, where are they based in the world?
Organisations can find out more about their obligations and how to comply, including protecting personal information, from the ICO’s website.
Issues of data protection, privacy and online security remain top priorities across the globe. But technology never sits still. New developments are happening all the time, including in the way cookies are used and how people’s online activity is monitored.
As a business, it is your job to stay on top of the regulations. Make the most of any technology that can help you strengthen your own marketing and do everything you can to provide a safe, enjoyable online experience for new and existing customers.