Retail Technology
| Log in | Subscribe

Subscribe | Log in
Retail Technology

Digital marketing expert Jonathan Erwin discusses which way will the cookie crumble come May 2012

Digital marketing expert Jonathan Erwin discusses which way will the cookie crumble come May 2012


The European Union (EU) legislation designed to protect web users from being tracked by cookies without their consent comes will come into force from May 2012.


Although he believes the legislation to be over-protective, Jonathan Erwin, managing director of digital marketing agency Aspect Web Media, one of the first companies to comply with the legislation, looks at new ways of tracking consumer behaviour and urges retailers to show customers the positive benefits of doing so.


Moves to control the way internet browsing habits are monitored and used to direct online advertising campaigns are set to have a major impact on the work of digital marketers and advertisers when new privacy legislation is enforced in May.


In brief, the regulations make it clear that UK businesses running websites in the UK – including retailers, of course – need to get consent from visitors to their websites in order to store cookies on users’ computers. Any retailers with such online services need to ensure compliance with this law, as the Independent Commissioner's Office (ICO) has powers to penalise non-compliant companies after May 2012.


A brief history in cookies


Briefly, a cookie is a small file that a website puts on a user’s computer so that it can remember something, for example the user’s preferences, at a later time. The majority of retailers in the UK currently use cookies for a wide variety of reasons – from analysing their consumers' browsing habits to remembering a user’s payment details when buying products online.


Cookie-less tracking


Erwin said some US companies are already migrating to server-to-server tracking, which passes information through a URL thus eliminating the need for cookies altogether. ‘Cookie-less’ tracking is also arguably more powerful than cookie-based tracking because it minimises tracking issues, which can be created by consumer browser settings, mobile browsers, new web browsers and plug-ins that block and/or remove cookies. Server-to-server tracking can also improve the overall reliability of performance data because the data is sent directly through a link to a receiving server rather than from a cookie stored in a browser.


“My own company was one of the first to comply with the new legislation by using this technology,” he said. “I believe it can certainly be utilised by retailers in exactly the same way.”


Caveat emptor – but understand the pros and cons


Erwin said the rationale behind the updated ePrivacy EU directive is sound enough if the aim is to protect the public from being trailed around the internet when they may prefer not to be. “But we are in danger of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut here,” he added.


“No one is saying there should not be an option for a consumer to decide, but consumers do actually benefit from the use of cookies since they enable websites to remember passwords or settings for the next time they visit a particular site, speeding up the whole process for them. It can also be argued that so-called behavioural advertising is tailored to an individual's requirements, since cookies track only those web pages they are interested in. Consumers should understand these benefits.”


Call for consumer education


Erwin suggested the solution to this issue was to better educate people rather than bring in heavy-handed measures that hamper the activities of digital marketers and advertisers, as well as the many web users who welcome the use of cookies and have no objections to them.


The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has made a start by creating a website to help consumers understand the concept of behavioural advertising. However, it can be argued that more could have been done at government level to let the public know the benefits of cookies and how they can be blocked or disabled.


“Instead we are left with clunky new legislation, which is an encumbrance for everyone using the internet, whether you are browsing sites as a consumer or you are a retailer tracking web habits to help better target your advertising campaigns, concluded Erwin.