We are constantly disrupted and interfered by it, luring into our searches, and claiming a few centimetres of our screens. Indeed, we have reached a time where not only bakers can say this: we live in a world of cookies. Our childhood fantasy has turned out to be a daily headache which we encounter whenever we click on a website.

Faced with it, most of us have given in to resignation and, just like with ‘I have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions’, we click on the accept option without thinking about it twice. Conflictingly, we are at the same time, increasingly becoming more alert in terms of protecting the privacy of our personal data and online information when accessing websites.

As a completely unknown being, cookies are for many an alien entity that surely feeds on our information, which we give once we fall victims to technological surrender. But, are cookies actually, the culprits in these assaults on your privacy? And is the European Union our knight in shining armour that is battling these criminal biscuits with ruthless regulations and implacable directives?

Let’s start from the basics. In a nutshell, a cookie is a small file containing specific data about your search that is stored in your computer but read by the website server. With that in mind, the obvious follow-up question becomes, what kind of data? Depends. Functional cookies will keep useful information like your login details or your Zalando basket items. In turn, they are also beneficial for the website owners in order to keep track of their users. But cookies come in all shapes and sizes. Other cookies can use your data differently. Without it being apparent, your information might also be being processed by third parties, tracking your searches and producing behavioural profiles, making you a target to all kinds of advertising. It is for this type of use that the European Union decided to intervene.

Overall, the ‘EUs cookie policy’ is mainly split between the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the ePrivacy Directive (EPD).

The GDPR was negotiated for 4 years until it came into force in 2018. With more than 3000 amendments, it has become the most lobbied legislation in the history of Europe. Its purpose? To guarantee full transparency by websites in the way your personal information is collected and processed, where cookies serve as one of these data collection methods.

Importantly, the regulation ruled that online identifiers, would now be classified as ‘personal data’, unlike in the past where such identifiers only included features such as your name, location… Today it extends to IP addresses, fingerprints or web bugs, used for web analytics but also for email tracking.

To this, we shall add the EPD. Also known as the cookie law, it requires all websites operating within the EU to get informed consent from users regarding their cookie use. Therefore, the pop-ups now are due to a law whereby websites have to ask for your permission on their usage of cookies and in this way, they inform you that they are indeed using cookies and more importantly, what are they using them for.

So, knowing now what cookies are, the reason behind the pop-ups and the abiding EU cookie policy, we now wonder. Are we now safe from the hackers and techie pirates that surf the seas of 0s and 1s? Have the years-long efforts of the European Union granted us back our right to anonymity on the world wide web? Surely the answer is no and quite dependent on your own online choices. Whilst these cookies might not be causing high blood sugar levels and diabetes, you should still try to watch out.

Understandably, not all of us can afford the time to geek around, diving deep into the bowels of European legislation and techie forums in order to understand what happens with our personal information online. The virtual world is still fairly young, in constant construction, and clearly the Wild West of legislation. Nonetheless and overall, EU cookie policy can be said to represent a forward step in this field, a building block in the open, with the GDPR being one of the first and leading data privacy regulation globally in terms of online consumer protection.

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1 thought on “Unpacking the EU cookie policy

  1. Very interesting to learn about the EU legislation behind cookies/biscuits 🙂 While I also find those pop-ups and banners a bit annoying, it’s good to know the legal reasoning behind their use!

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