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Online cookie rules and your consent

Cookies are small files which websites can leave on your computer, tablet or phone while you are browsing the site.

Cookies are small files which websites can leave on your computer, tablet or phone while you are browsing the site.

They can be used for a number of different functions, most of which are completely harmless – for example, they can be used to remember details of a previous visit to a website, sparing you the need to log in again or specify other details the site might require (your language or your location, for example).

They are sometimes needed to make certain elements of a page work – for example, shopping carts often use cookies to store the items in them.

However, some cookies can be used to track users online and follow them across other sites, such as analytics cookies, which sites use to track how many people have visited a site, or advertising cookies, which are used to target advertising at users as they visit other sites.

This isn’t much of a privacy issue, but there are ways to delete or block cookies if you find this to be intrusive.

The law on cookies

Any site that is either owned in the EU or is targeted at EU citizens must get consent from the user to leave cookies on their machine, as well as informing the user as to what the cookies are doing.

As a result, when you visit a site for the first time, you will usually see a message (often popping up at the top of the screen) telling you that by continuing to browse the site, you are consenting to their use of cookies. Sites rarely ask you to directly give consent or opt-out.

The site should also clarify what kinds of cookies it uses, and what they do. Most sites will do this on a dedicated cookies page, such as the cookies page on Law on the Web.

This might be good information to have, but a site is unlikely to offer you the option to turn its cookies off. If you want to remove the cookies or stop them from appearing on your device in the first place, you will need to take extra steps.

Deleting your cookies

Left alone, cookies can remain on your device for months, or even years (assuming you are actually using it for that long). However, you can cut them down in their prime whenever it pleases you.

Your browser will have a function for you to delete your cookies – here is how to do it on the more popular browsers. If your browser isn’t covered here, consult the help file or just search online for how to do it.

Firefox

Click on History on the menubar, followed by Clear Recent History. Alternatively, if you are using Windows, you can press Ctrl+Shift+Del. In the dialogue box, make sure the box next to Cookies is checked, then hit the Clear Now button.

Google Chrome

Open the Settings menu and click on the History tab at the side. Click on the Clear Browsing Data… button, and in the window that opens, make sure the box next to Cookies and other site and plugin data is checked, then click the Clear Browsing Data button.

Sites will no longer be able to track you with their cookies – until you visit their site again of course, at which point their cookies will be on your device once again.

If this is unacceptable to you, there are ways to prevent cookies from ever leaking onto your computer.

Blocking cookies altogether

This prevents sites from putting cookies onto your device. Some browsers will allow you to do this in their settings, while in others you can download extensions for the browser to block cookies.

You can also set this up to block some cookies and let others through – for example, an extension such as Ghostery, which is available for Firefox and Google Chrome, will allow you to block advertising cookies while allowing others through.

Bear in mind that blocking all cookies will make some websites fail to function properly – comments section may fail to appear, video players may stop working, and social media buttons may be replaced with blank spaces.


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