Tech View

What Happens When You Click “Accept All Cookies?”

Browser pop-ups aren’t quite the scourge that they were 20 years ago but nowadays there’s a new irritating pop-up in town. The one that asks you to accept all cookies.

So what exactly are you agreeing to when you click that button? Lets understand what a cookie actually does. A cookie is a small piece of identifying information saved to your browser. Some are what we call first-party cookies, which originate from the website you’re actually on.

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These perform various tasks to help the website function such as saving your session once you log in, taking note of your location so the site can tell what the weather is like outside, or retaining settings such as keeping a website’s dark mode enabled and other cookies are third party cookies. Which are the ones that cause considerably more controversy, as these are usually the ones involved in ad tracking. An advertiser that places an ad on a website will also put a cookie on your pc that follows you around on the web and tracks your activity with the idea being to use that data to serve you relevant ads.

So if you’re a big hockey fan that likes to read about your favorite team you might start seeing ads telling you to buy tickets when you’re catching up on the news later that day. Unsurprisingly ad tracking makes plenty of people uncomfortable.

For there have been laws passed in recent years that attempt to limit it most notably the e-privacy directive often referred to as the EU cookie law. This cookie law makes it illegal for websites to place cookies on your device until you click on that agree with button and, on the surface, this sounds like a pretty good way to protect users’ privacy.

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Well, there are a couple of glaring issues with that law including the one you encounter daily. One reason is that the EU privacy directive is sub-optimal. Its requirement for the website to give you a user-friendly option for managing your cookies is pretty weak. You see user-friendly sounds like a good thing but many websites interpret this clause fairly liberally often to the extent of presenting you with a dark pattern.

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What we mean is that the accept all button is very attention-grabbing and very easy to click on the button, while some websites are good and make the “reject all” button immediately accessible and equally prominent. Many others force you to dig through a less obvious cookie settings menu where a bunch of other options for disabling specific types of tracking cookies is present with the option to reject all unnecessary cookies relatively hard to find on a site where you just needed to spend three seconds looking up a fact and this is gonna take at least 20 sec and just like terms of service or privacy policy, the vast majority of people aren’t going to bother to read all that cookie fine print when the notification pops up. Most of us are just going to hit accept all and move on meaning that you’re consenting to ad tracking in all likelihood.

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That isn’t even the only issue with how these cookie warnings are designed. The ones that flat out prevent you from viewing the website until you hit agree, called cookie walls don’t even comply with the EU cookie law and others are so poorly designed that the reject cookies button doesn’t just reject third-party cookies. They can actually break the website because they reject all cookies. Unfortunately, the EU hasn’t exactly been super vigilant about enforcing the cookie law. So useless user-unfriendly warnings have become the order of the day. So are we just fated to deal with all of these cookie warnings forever? Not necessarily!

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There are actually browser extensions available at least on desktop browsers that can auto dismiss these cookie pop-ups and there is an option on a browser called “block all third-party cookies” and you have a pretty decent way to protect your privacy without having to navigate irritating menus on every website. For the notices that still slip through, it is best to reject as many third-party cookies as possible unless you really like getting targeted ads for embarrassing personal care products.

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