An eraser pointing to a clear internet history and cookies option in browser
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn

Within the first seconds of your arrival on most sites today, there’s a banner or message asking you to accept cookies. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore what cookies are, as well as what has given rise to “Cookie Consent” here in the United States.

What is a cookie? 

According to Google, “ a cookie is a small piece of text sent to your browser by a website you visit. It helps the site remember information about your visit, which can make it easier to visit the site again and make the site more useful to you.” 

Without cookies, a website that you’re loading has no idea whether you’ve already visited that site today, or whether you have it opened in multiple tabs or have started a survey or played a video. This can be a problem for those websites that need to track your movement across the website to give you the best experience. 

How are cookies used? 

For years, brands and businesses have used cookies to track website visitors. This information can be used for a better user experience: for instance, cookies enable your favorite sites to know you and keep you “signed in” for a quicker checkout process. Cookies can also be used to collect data that can help marketers to offer the user targeted ads that will interest them. 

Cookies also allow businesses to learn more about their visitors’ or clients’ habits online when they are on someone else’s website. That kind of metadata can help paint a fuller picture of where your prospective clients spend time. It can also play a significant role in marketing and advertising strategy. 

If cookies aren’t enabled, much of the functionality of some websites will be restricted. 

Why would some people want to disable cookies? 

Because cookies enable tracking of visitors, they can be seen as a privacy violation. The issue isn’t generally whether or not the website you’ve chosen to visit knows your behavior. Those would be first-party cookies, and most people will understand why they need to accept them in order to use the website. 

More often, the concern is that some websites embed code from other companies, known as third-party cookies, in their websites. This data can then be used to create a profile of you and your behavior. Many users will block third-party cookies for this reason. 

If your firm’s website has advertising or other third-party tools, you’ll want to understand any implications for your firm.

Why do websites warn me about cookies? 

You may be feeling some “consent fatigue” over the growing number of websites warning you about cookies as soon as you visit their site. These warnings first appeared because in 2002, the European Union passed the “ePrivacy Directive”. One of its many guidelines says that websites need to obtain their visitors’ explicit consent to having cookies stored on their computer. 

It technically only applies to sites based in the European Union, but more and more sites, as you’ve likely noticed, are participating in the practice. The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) adopted guidelines on May 4, 4040 that clarified what makes a site GDPR compliant in terms of processing personal data on websites. Requiring an opt-in, rather than an opt-out, option is one of the many ways the practice is regulated. 

In the U.S., regulation of this data is weaker. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) took effect in January 2020 and requires disclosure to users of what cookies are in place, what information is being collected about them, and why. Websites are also required to tell users who their personal information will be shared with. 

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is also a factor for websites targeting those under age thirteen. 

It’s important to remember that cookies themselves aren’t good or bad. It’s the way that sites use those cookies matters. 

Are third-party cookies going away? 

You may have read that in January 2020, Google announced it would overhaul Chrome and remove cookies that track people across the web within the next two years. A full two years later, they scrapped their “Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC)” plan and replaced it with a new system they’re calling “Topics”. 

Topics and is a part of Google’s larger effort to end third-party cookies in Chrome. It’s designed to impact user privacy, though many privacy experts don’t believe it will make much of a dent in that regard. 

While most other browsers got rid of third-party cookies long ago, Google has continued the practice, and with this revision, and under the FTC’s watchful eye, they’re hoping to find a way to remain in the advertising business but in a more ethical manner that doesn’t involve tracking more sensitive data like gender or race. 

With 63% of the browser market, Google is likely to set a standard that others will follow in the use of third-party cookies. We’ll see exactly how this plays out in time. 

About the Author
The team at OneFirst Legal has built websites for thousands of law firms across the United States. Fueled by data and whole lot of creativity, OneFirst helps law firms make a powerful first impression online with websites that convert visitors into clients.