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Website cookie notice

Compliance with data privacy regulations like GDPR becomes crucial, necessitating clear and user-friendly cookie notices to inform users about data collection practices.
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7 min read
May 18, 2023
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As companies and brands increase their online presence, there are several implications for business. One such implication is the risk of heavy fines due to data privacy regulations

A major consideration in thinking about online web presence and data privacy is online cookies — small data files that websites use to collect and store user information. While cookies have several advantages for website owners and users, such as improving user experience, their use comes with the need for cookie compliance. This is where website cookie notices and cookie compliance comes in.

A website cookie notice is a piece of information that informs a website’s users that the website uses cookies. It appears as a banner when a web user lands on a website page for the first time. It contains information about the type of cookies the website uses, the type of data it will collect, and how it intends to use it. The website cookie notice also requires the user to agree or decline to use cookies.

The whole concept of website cookie notices is what is referred to as cookie compliance. Cookie compliance means websites informing and obtaining user consent to use cookies. However, it goes deeper than that. It also involves understanding the legal requirements around the use of cookies. For instance, the GDPR cookie notice guideline has set strict rules for websites when obtaining valid consent, such as having online cookie banners that allow users to make an active choice — simply continuing to use the site does not constitute valid consent. Moreover, website cookie notices should be clear, concise, and easily understandable.

What Are Web Cookies?

So what are website cookies? Web cookies are like small digital breadcrumbs that websites leave on users' devices when they visit them. These tiny files are stored on the user’s web browser and help the website remember information about their visit, like their preferred language and other settings. This enhances the website’s performance and speed on the user’s next visit, thus increasing overall user experience and engagement.

Types of cookies

While the definition of web cookies contains a glimpse of what cookies are used for, you may still wonder, ‘What are cookies used for on websites?’ To answer this question, let’s explore the different types of web cookies and their functions:

  • Session Cookies: These cookies only exist when the user uses the website (or, more strictly, until they close the browser after using the website). They typically store information as a session identification that does not personally identify the user. These cookies are crucial for websites to function correctly, enabling actions like navigating back and forth between pages.
  • Persistent Cookies: They remain on a user’s device even after they close the browser. They help websites remember users’ information and settings for future visits, leading to faster and more convenient access. They’re often used for remembering login details or user preferences, such as language or theme selection.
  • First-Party Cookies: These are cookies set by the website a web user is visiting. Persistent cookies can remember a user’s specific preferences for a website, helping to create a more personalized experience during subsequent visits. They can also track visitor behavior over time and across different websites. (Learn more in our blog: What is a first-party cookie?)
  • Third-Party Cookies: These are cookies set by a different domain (website) to the one you’re visiting. They are mainly used for online advertising and tracking because they enable advertisers to display relevant ads based on the user’s browsing history.

Cookies are essential for many more uses other than enhancing website performance. They also play a pivotal role in data tracking and ad targeting. Many websites use them to collect data about user behavior, such as their most visited pages, how long users stay on a page, or the links they click. This information helps website owners optimize their content, design, and navigation based on real user activity.

How Are Website Cookies Used

When users first visit a website, they’re often greeted with a pop-up or banner asking for their consent to accept cookies. But what does accepting cookies mean, and how are website cookies used?

In essence, users accepting cookies means they give the website permission to store small data packets on their device. This data tracks their online behavior and preferences, making their browsing experience more personalized and efficient.

When a user agrees to accept cookies, the website can remember specific details about the visit. For instance, if an online shopper adds items to their cart but leaves the website before checkout, the cookies will remember these selections so they don’t have to start over when they return. Suppose they had set their language preference on a multilingual website. In that case, cookies ensure they see the site in their preferred language during subsequent visits without selecting it every time.

Browser cookies are also important for user authentication. When a user logs into a website, cookies help the site remember that they’re logged in. Users must re-enter their username and password without cookies when navigating to a different page.

However, it’s not all about convenience and functionality. Accepting cookies also has implications for user privacy. When users allow cookies, they allow the website (and potentially third-party entities) to collect data about their browsing habits. But despite these privacy concerns, it’s important to note that not all cookies are used for tracking or advertising. Many are essential for basic website functionality and enhancing the user experience. And while some people might find targeted advertising intrusive, others may appreciate seeing ads that align with their interests.

How Do Cookies Enable Data Collection

While web cookies’ primary use is to enhance users’ online experience, they also allow a website to collect user data.

When an online user visits a web page, it sends a cookie to their device, stored in their web browser. Each time the user revisits the site, their browser sends the website this cookie. This information exchange allows the website to ‘remember’ certain details about the user’s visit, such as their login credentials, items in their shopping cart, or preferences like language and layout settings.

A relatable example: online shopping 

Imagine a user browsing a cookies enabled online clothing store. They look at several items and add a few to their cart but ultimately don’t make a purchase. The website uses cookies to track their browsing behavior, including which items they viewed, how long they spent on the site, and whether they added or removed anything from their cart.

These cookies create a unique identifier for your browser, which the site can recognize and interact with each time you visit. Every action a user takes on the site gets associated with this identifier. This process enables the website to compile a detailed record of a user’s browsing behavior on their site over time. This data gives website owners valuable insights into user behavior, helping the website optimize its content, layout, and product offerings based on real user activity.

So how do cookies collect data? Beyond individual websites, third-party cookies can track users’ activity across multiple sites. For instance, an advertising agency could use cookies to observe users’ browsing behavior on all the sites it works with. This data allows the agency to build a comprehensive profile of its users’ interests, which it can use to serve targeted ads that align with their preferences.

While this can lead to more relevant advertising, it raises privacy concerns. Many people feel uncomfortable with their online activities being tracked and analyzed to such a degree.

Cookie Notice Examples

Today, most, if not all, websites use cookie notices. This is vital in ensuring that they meet the GDPR cookie compliance requirements. To meet these requirements, cookie notices should include the following elements:

  • The cookie notice must clearly inform users that the website uses cookies and why it uses cookies.
  • Cookie notice text must be in plain and easy-to-understand language.
  • It should allow users to accept or reject cookies based on their preferences.
  • The notice should offer a way for users to change their cookie preferences at any time.

A look at various website cookie notice examples can give us a clear picture of how they incorporate these elements into their cookie notices. Take, for example, Google’s cookie banner. It provides a clear message about cookies and offers users options to customize or accept the default settings. This gives users control over their data, which is a key principle of the GDPR.

Another good example is SeatGeek’s privacy notice experience. Located at the bottom of the website, it not only notifies users about the use of cookies but also explains why they are used. SeatGeek also allows users to accept, reject and manage consent preferences for cookies.

Cookie notice and compliance go hand in hand. Website cookies enhance compliance by informing users about how the website collects and uses their data and giving users control by allowing them to decide whether or not to accept cookies. Therefore, companies must strive to achieve cookie notice compliance by implementing cookie notice best practices and continuously updating their notices based on different data privacy laws.

Related Articles

Is your cookie consent banner compliant with privacy laws? 

What is a cookie consent opt-in? 

GDPR compliance requirements

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7 min read
May 18, 2023
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