Friday, 27 May 2011

Cookie rules are taking the biscuit

Despite having been in the business for over a decade, I still get a sense of enormous satisfaction when I solve a programming conundrum or come up with a fantastically original and pretty design for a website.

However, when I’ve spent a day struggling over a technical issue that stubbornly refuses to do what I want it to, or I’ve been sat in a meeting, I’m left feeling rather deflated.

This is because I like to feel I’ve been productive. People whose roles are defined by sitting in meetings and talking bollocks should be drowned in their own aftershave. Bureaucrats who sit around making up jobs for themselves by coming up with nonsense regulations in a vague attempt to justify their existence are among the worst kind of prat.

Take Christopher Graham. He is an “Information Commissioner”. What the hell that means I have no idea. He has recently made amendments to the “Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations” or PECR for short. The irony of that acronym sounding like the word “pecker” is not lost on me.

Anyway, he is a guy with a receding hairline, silly spectacles and a face that just screams “punch me”. He has taken it upon himself to force websites to ask for consent when they place things called “cookies” on a user’s browser.

Now I’m not talking about biscuits here. Cookies are temporary text files that get written to a user’s computer when they visit a website. They are written when the website needs to remember user preferences. For example, our Webshop app uses a form of cookie when a customer adds items to their shopping basket. The system needs to remember what that customer has added so it stores it in something called a “session” where it stores all their shopping data until they have either bought the item or left the shop. It is the same when that user logs into their account to purchase the items. The system needs some way of remembering who they are so it stores a temporary record on the user’s computer. These files usually expire after about 20 minutes of inactivity.

So what are all these websites expected to do? Will they now have to ask the user’s permission every time they perform an action? Does this mean that every time someone adds something to their basket a message has to pop up saying “Are you sure you want to add this item to your basket? Your computer needs to be aware of this.”? Whenever someone logs in does a message asking “Are you sure you want to log in?” have to appear? These kind of patronising dialogue boxes are bad enough on Microsoft products. I personally don’t want them appearing on all websites.

And what about web stats? Objects like Google Analytics effectively track a visitor’s activity on a website. Is this spying? Not really. It’s called gathering useful information so the owner of the website can use the data to improve the user experience in the future. Or put simply, good business.

What these idiotic and uneducated EU morons need to realise is not all cookies are invading privacy. They can be used for granting authentication, storing useful data, storing site preferences to make the user’s experience on the site better and gathering useful data about their visiting trends to, again, make their experience better on their next visit.

Sure websites that place invasive or malicious objects on computers should be targeted but then any good anti-virus or anti-spyware program should solve that. Also, anyone viewing websites that install those kinds of Trojans are obviously looking at porn and deserve to be hacked.

So Mr Graham, do you actually know anything about computer programming? Do you even know how to use the Internet? No you don’t do you? You’re just a pointless EU bureaucrat with a very small PECR.