Whatever Does “Accept Cookies” Mean, Really?
by Boran GÖHER
In the current landscape of the world wide web, any person who spends even the smallest amount of time browsing the internet will definitely run into a prompt requesting their direct consent in order to send and receive cookies between their computer and the server. In other words, the contemporarily notorious “accept cookies” notification. General consensus among regular internet users seems to be that accepting these cookies is not really harmful and accepting them is par for the course. And in the end, you do not have much choice if you want to keep browsing the internet. But should we really be so easygoing about internet cookies or should we be warier of this commonplace practice?
Apparently, Europe agrees. The European Union has adopted a directive in 2002 which would limit cookie functions unless the web site was able to produce the data subject’s consent. "the data subject's consent" was defined as "any freely given specific and informed indication of his wishes by which the data subject signifies his agreement to personal data relating to him being processed." (1) Similar discussions were also had in the US, where even the NSA was found to be stealthily planting cookies by a privacy enthusiast in the early 2000s. (2) Web browsers also take this issue seriously and are frequently updated with new cookie-related settings. Most modern browsers allow the user to turn off third-party cookies, turn of cookies entirely for specific sites, disable all cookies and sometimes more. (3) In addition, there are many unofficial addons for these browsers that allow further management of the user’s cookies.
In the end, it boils down to a simple question of how much privacy we are willing to give up for convenience. Cookies are definitely an important part of the ease the internet brings into our lives, but they can carry as much penetration power into our privacy as the rest of the internet. The question does not have an easy answer, and it will likely not in the near future. In that case, the best course of action is to be informed and alert. If you trust your government’s ability to sufficiently protect your online privacy, you can be more liberal with cookie settings, if you do not have that trust, it is best to be on your toes lest you face unfavorable consequences regarding your privacy.