Analysis. Some public websites are starting to clean out the use of so-called third-party cookies – those who share personal information with others. Websites with advertising are more dependent on tracking cookies – also called small spies. Yet, many public websites, including municipalities, media and schools, still engage with third party cookies. They could take look at a privately-owned commercial toy giant in Denmark.
At many municipality websites both Facebook, Google and Twitter can see, when citizens read about a sickness or complain about rats. Also publicly owned media sites invite the data-giants to follow what is going on. And at public schools and hospitals all over Europe citizens’ digital behavior is tracked through these cookies. Welcome to 2016, when third-party – or tracking – cookies still haunt many public websites.
Personal data collected by cookies can end up in global data brokers big databases, where they are selling lists of everything be it pregnant women, lonely wealthy widows, rape victims or people with chronic diseases. Unless you effectively block these cookies (see how below), you are probably on one or more lists, categorized without you knowing how.
There are the good and the bad
There are good cookies and bad cookies see from an individual point of view. The good is the so-called first-party cookies – also called necessary preference and optimization cookies. They are used to get a cart to work, so you can shop, to remember a login and to do web analytics. They share basically no data with others. The ‘bad’ cookies, however, they are third-party cookies, also called marketing cookies, and they share data with each other. A growing number of web users block these (along with ads) and public institutions should be able to do without them as opposed private commercial websites, many of which rely on advertising revenue. Also the so-called social plugins – ie like- and share buttons for social media – are third-party cookies.
Public website can still share their content without installing these plugins – they can instead use statistical links. Yes, interactivity disappear, but what is most important; having interactive share buttons to show how many people shared your content or to protect your customers’ privacy and your own reputation?
Also leaving Google Analytics
Just as much stuff online is ‘free’ for individuals, so is it for companies . Google Analytics, GA, is free, or? Some believe you pay with your customer data using GA, and that you would be better off using open software like Piwik (demands a bit of programming) or paid web analytic tools like SiteImprove or Netminers (disclosure; Dataethics share office with Netminers in Copenhagen).
Smart use of data
The public websites who still host third party cookies can learn from a huge Danish toy giant called lego.com. The privately held company is a role model when it comes to protecting its users’ privacy. Lego.com has zero tracking cookies on its websites aimed at kids under 13 years of age, ie zero likes and share cookies from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Google and others. And zero Facebook Connect. Zero Google Analytics. Zero real name policy (what Facebook has, because there is more money in the real data than fake data); children are encouraged to use pseudonyms to protect themselves.
Now, it must be said that Lego course should be extraordinarily careful with their customers with most of them being children. But taking care of its customers’ data and not have third-party cookies are also smart business, as Lego is making sure not to pay too big a price with its customer data.
Guide: To block cookies effectively
The single most effective way to block third-party cookies is not to delete them from your hard drive or change the settings in the browser: It is to install an extension in your browser. It can be disconnect.me/disconnect at your computer. Or ghostery.com. And for your mobile gadgets you can use adblockfast.com (an app). If you use the latter, and you are prevented from accessing certain sites, you have to unblock Adblockfast but it is really easy and fast. If you have problems disconnect your computer, use multiple browsers – have a clean one for those few situations.