If you don’t particularly care about cookies, or you can’t be bothered reading all of this (and I wouldn’t blame you), then check out the short version: it tells you what I think you really need to know, no more and no less. Otherwise, read on to learn about what cookies are, my site cookies, how to opt out of cookies, and the law.
What are cookies ?
Cookies are tiny text files that are placed on your computer (in your web browser’s cookie folder) by web sites that you visit. Cookies are then sent back to the web site on each subsequent visit, or to another site that recognises those same cookies. They are widely used in order to make web sites work, or to work more efficiently, as well as to provide information to the owners of the sites.
First-party cookies are set by the web site you are actually visiting, and can only be read in future by that same web site. Third-party cookies are set by a different web site, as a result of code included in the pages of the site you are visiting. The third party is typically an advertiser or affiliate. Third-party cookies can be read by the third-party web site, and as they can be set and updated through visits to all of the third party’s other affiliates, they allow your browsing activity to be tracked across what may be a large number of web sites. The typical objective of this tracking is to serve targeted advertisements to you if you visit any of those sites.
All cookies contain expiry dates that define how long they stay on your computer. Some, known as persistent cookies, remain on your computer until the expiry date, when they are deleted automatically. (You may also delete them manually, using your browser’s controls.) Others, known as session cookies, expire as soon as you close your web browser (the end of your browsing “session”).
Web browsers normally provide a means for you to see what cookies are being stored, what the cookies contain, and which web sites set them. If you check, you will find that this web site domain, www.kwbell.eu, may have set up to four cookies — but no more than four — as described below.
Cookies used on this web site
The cookies set and used by my web site are first-party cookies only. The site does not use any third-party cookies whatsoever.
The cookies have a single purpose: to count page visits and the sources of traffic to my site, for which I use the well-known Google Analytics service. The statistics it provides help me to understand how people use the site, and to judge what improvements I might make to it for the benefit of future visitors. Unless you choose to opt out, my web site sets cookies that allow Google Analytics to collect information in an anonymous form, including the number of visitors to the site, how they came to the site, and which pages they visited. I do not permit Google to use or share my analytics data.
All of the cookies are privacy neutral: that is, they are harmless from a privacy point of view, because they do not store or connect to any of your personal data. Nobody — not me, not Google — can identify you from the information in the cookies.
Strictly necessary cookies
Some web sites set cookies that are necessary for the web site to work properly for its visitors. One of the cookies set by my web site, named __utma, has a dual purpose. As well as acting as an analytics cookie, it is essential both to ensure your smooth and uninterrupted experience of the site, and to allow me to comply with the “cookie law”. In this compliance role, it is used
- to remember whether you will accept the other analytics cookies (yes, that’s somewhat ironic — but it’s the only way); and
- to save you from unnecessarily seeing and dismissing an obtrusive banner about cookies on repeat visits to the site. You would consider this a major pain in the ass, and I would consider it a needless impairment to usability.
In order to “remember” effectively, __utma needs to be a persistent cookie, set to expire a useful period of time from the date of your last visit. My web site will always attempt to set this cookie.
Description of the cookies
The four analytics cookies are:
- __utma. This is the primary cookie, which is used to remember your computer and web browser on repeat visits to the site. If you opt out, it is used to remember that you have opted out and will prevent the other cookies being set. It will expire two years from the date of your last visit.
- __utmb. This cookie is used in combination with __utmc to note which pages you visit and the time you spend on the site. It expires 30 minutes after your visit.
- __utmc. This is a session cookie which expires as soon as you close your web browser.
- __utmz. This cookie notes how you reached the site; for example, by entering the address directly into your browser, or by following a link from another web site, or from a web search. It expires 6 months after your visit.
Consent and opting out of cookies
However, you don’t have to accept my analytics cookies. If you don’t, you will still be able to access my site in its entirety, and no kittens will die. The easiest way to opt out of these cookies is to press the “No more cookies” button below:
What happens when you opt out ?
First, my web server will delete the __utmb, __utmc and __utmz cookies from your computer, if they have been set. Next, it will reset the contents of the __utma cookie to read “Cookies-Not-Accepted”, so that on future visits to my web site, my server will not attempt to set the __utmb, __utmc or __utmz cookies again.
Other ways to opt out
You can use the controls available in your web browser to delete cookies, or to prevent cookies ever being set. If you don’t know how to do this, there are instructions for a range of browsers on the All About Cookies web site.
However, if you delete the cookies using your browser controls, the next time you return to my site you will be treated as a first-time visitor, and the banner mentioned above will be displayed to you again on the first page you visit. And if you set your browser so that it will prevent cookies ever being set, then you will see the banner on every page you view, on every visit to my site.
Why are all of the above measures and information necessary? Because of the “cookie law”…
Consent may be gained in a number of ways. The Information Commissioner, responsible for enforcing the regulations, has published guidance on their implementation. In the guidance (version 3, May 2012), the Commissioner recognises the difficulty of gaining explicit consent for analytics cookies and “that implied consent might be the most practical and user-friendly option” (my emphasis).
I wholeheartedly agree that implied consent is both the most practical and user-friendly option, as other methods would be unnecessarily disruptive of your experience of visiting my site, and particularly given that
- the cookies used are first-party only;
- their contents are entirely privacy neutral;
- their only purpose is for the anonymous collection of statistics;
- in terms of type, number and persistence, they are at the minimum level of intrusiveness;
- I have provided detailed information on this page about the cookies and how they are used;
- I have provided a clear and simple method for visitors to opt out of accepting cookies for this site;
- on 31 January 2013, the Information Commissioner’s Office began relying on exactly the same approach on its own web site!