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To agree, or disagree – that is the question.

To agree, or disagree – that is the question.

I am no Shakespeare, neither am I a lawyer – but I am a student of Binary University and I believe there should be a fine line that separates a decision, and the finer the better, as for the avoidance of any doubt.

However I have noticed somewhat to my dismay that since the introduction of the GDPR regulation in May this year that already many websites have changed their approach to gaining my agreement to track my visits to their site – aka consent. Before we go off into the details of the slightly underhand mechanisms being used, lets talk about exactly what each of these website are actually tracking, because this can be quite surprising.

Cookies – we all know about these little nuggets of information, and they have been around since the beginning of time and although these seems fairly innocuous to the common browser user, they are a very useful tool in identifying you to the website you are visiting. Take for example a news site, you don’t login, so you haven’t identified yourself to such a site – however using cookies they are able to track your visits back to their servers and the articles that you read. Big deal – so what? Wrong, the fact is that at some point you may be identified, not by using your cookie, which are essentially a small file of data on your machine, but by other tracking methods.

Tracking Cookies – often referred to as advertiser cookies, or third party cookies, this is where the internet became a little smarter, you see the tracking of data between websites using normal cookies is practically impossible, because the W3 and the browser makers made sure of this (hopefully) – but tracking cookies enable sites to identify your visits to different sites across a very long period of time – and the ability to track your interests could then be shared between those sites, if they have the ability to do this. However this relies upon a common third party that would be malicious and willing to do this – and no such company would exist, ever.

Anyway up to this point some simple housekeeping would solve many of your problems – as a simple clean up of your completely flithy internet history would for sure provide you with some privacy again… until the internet marketers got just a little clever!

Zombie Cookies, present a real risk to privacy, many believe that most websites are non hostile and don’t present a privacy concern, however this is really not true, zombie cookies are very clever, they are little scripts (like a spreadsheet formula) that run on your machine and calculate small facts about it – like the fonts you have installed, the size of your screen, how fast your processor is etc and then they create a number – an “ID” that identifies your laptop, or your phone or tablet – and its pretty unique, probably more unique than your physical fingerprint. Once they have this they store it on their server, and when you come back – they can recall your previous activity etc. The more dangerous aspect of this is if you are also logged in to their (or one of their partner websites servers) – just once – on each device, then they have enough to link your devices together literally forever. So what you view on one device feeds the information for advertising on the other.

However now we have ascertained that in fact internet marketing companies are cunning, lets talk about those little consent popups we keep getting. You will have noticed since the GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation has been introduced that the questions are getting tougher – its like being on an episode of Millionaire, only the stakes are higher for the internet companies, not you. You see before you simply had to consent and you were let in, or you declined and you could be turned away, but now the questions are more interesting, you see if you click on the option to see the purpose for which they are asking of you to utilise your identifiable information, you may well be surprised – and it will make you think – “did I really wan’t this Banana Muffin recipe that much?”.

Anyway – the take away on this is – you do not need to give consent any longer, you are legally allowed to answer no to each of their questions – and despite the wording and size of the “Decline” button being considerably smaller than the “Accept” – you have a right to continue without being watched. On your browser at least.

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