Part of my morning routine is to have a skim over the stories showing up in my Feedly list and have a look at anything that seems of interest whilst munching on some cereal or toast and washing it down with a cup of coffee. A couple of articles peek my interest from sites that I have used before but now want more information from me as a payment to view the content.

These are not sites that have a pay wall as such where you subscribe to read content, but cookie and consent walls. Whilst cookie walls are not new, the uptake of them has increased with more and more sites wanting to get hold of your data in exchange for reading an article. Cookies days are numbered and there are ways to protect yourself, but to the majority of internet users being presented with an option to accept or reject cookies can present complexity to those who don’t understand what is actually happening. This is the hidden cost that you are paying to read that article or visit that site.

First off though I want to thank the websites and companies out there that have made the choice of accept or reject really simple with two buttons and clear options and information. There are a lot out there who do however add complexity with all the options and legal jargon that can catch people out.

Here is an example:

I have removed the name of the site from the picture above. There are many ways that these walls are presented to the user and you are not presented with the easy way to optout other than close the page and say no thanks. I wonder how many people press the “Consent” button without actually looking at what they are consenting to?

Clicking the “Manage options” the screen on this particular site presents 30 or so options to select from. Some sites have even more and there is no standard – everyone is asking for different things and information.

This is at least one of the better set of options and it does allow you to unselect or turn off all of the options. There are sites I have seen that you cannot select on and off and you have no choice if you want to read the site. One site I visited recently the UI was badly or cleverly made so that when you deselected all the options you don’t want to expose to a company that the save on continue button was behind a Chat to Us now button with a large on focus area that you could not go any further forward.

Visiting some sites you are presented with the option to either accept the cookies or leave. If its a site you want to visit or purchase something from you are left with only one choice to accept not knowing exactly what is going on behind the scenes.

How does legitimate interest work?

Sites asking for legitimate interests are using your personal data on the basis of their legitimate interest and are basically asking you for permission to process this data under GDPR. I have found that this differs between sites and not every site explains what they are actually looking at or wanting to use the data for. Some sites are being generic about this area and not been really clear as to what they are collecting, rather saying cookies that allow our website to function without error.

The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) have a good article on what are Legitimate Interests.

The Future

The future of cookies has been previously announced by Google with chrome browsers as in Jan 2020 it was announced that they would eliminate third-party cookies in the browser, but this is now delayed until the second half of 2024.

2023/24 will be the year for companies who rely on cookies to look at how they can make advertising relevant for a cookie less future. API’s and API’s with context will be available for companies to use which will protect users better and also provide context based relevant advertising.

How to protect yourself

In the first instance make sure you have Anti-Virus protection. Most packages do include an amount of protection to your devices around this topic, however you should check what is available through your chosen vendor.

To help users keep their privacy companies led by Google have introduced and initiative that is currently in development called Privacy Sandboxes which replace functionality of cross-site tracking and removing third-party cookies. The Privacy Sandboxes also help in mitigating the risk of device fingerprinting. The link to Googles Privacy Sandbox initiative site is below.

Privacy Sandbox

For now there options available that can block certain trackers through browser addons that can protect you and stop tracking cookies. As an example Privacy Badger is available for a number of browsers. Its good and protects you well and you do have the option to turn off and on cookies.

Privacy Badger

Even if you don’t use an add on you should consider blocking third party cookies which allow companies to sell your data onwards.

Remember to clear out your cache on a regular basis to remove any unwanted trackers from your device.

There are other methods and tweaks you can make that can help your online protection. Here are some links to further reading and advice.

FTC – How to protect your privacy online

Clear, enable, and manage cookies in Chrome

Device Security Guidance