Cookies in the Real World
If you're on this page you may be interested in my opinion on how Digital Marketers should react to the recent E-Privacy Directive (AKA the EU Cookie Law), as well as my thoughts on how cookies impact user experience.
Effective digital marketing relies on the ability to track customers throughout all stages of the customer journey. This is also one of its primary advantages over traditional forms of marketing, including print media and marketing on the first and second screens.
Analytics solutions are common across the web for this reason - it's helpful to both you, and your customers, when you know what they're doing on your site and how they behave. From a customer-centric viewpoint, effective analytics can help improve websites to make them easier to use and to provide more relevant content.
There is a strong argument to be made that users should be aware of cookies and what functions they perform, and there is also a strong argument that users should be in control of how they are tracked. However, the majority of users do not know or care about cookies, and certainly don't understand how they work and why they may be necessary.
In this context, the recent E-Privacy Directive is a disaster both for marketers and for users. Its overly-restrictive language has forced many websites to add ugly notifications in the attempt to inform or gain consent, when the simplest and best solution would have been to encourage the use of browser-side controls (using technologies such as Do Not Track) along with education of interested users.
Currently the majority of UK websites have failed to implement the ICO's guidelines, let alone follow the strict letter of the directive (which requires that active, explicit consent be sought). This is unsurprising given that the ability of website owners and marketers to run their websites effectively is severely curtailed, the law is largely unenforceable, and no strong indication has been given that those who do not follow the strictest interpretation of the directive will be prosecuted.
To ensure that users have control over their experience while getting one which is functional, it is therefore important to provide a clear explanation of what cookies are, which ones are used, and how they can be controlled. It is also important to make sure that this information is easy to access should the user wish to do so (the vast majority will not). Gaining explicit consent before tracking, however, is an unnecessary burden which harms both the visitor's experience and the website's ability to function - instead the burden should be on site owners to use tracking data responsibly, and on users to be aware of the privacy controls available to them.