Sunday 2 September 2012

The Economist’s approach to privacy

I like The Economist. It’s a good magazine. The articles are just about the right length to keep my attention.

And I like The Economist even more when it reports my views. So, I especially liked reading this week’s edition.

One of its more enterprising journalists had spotted my recent blog on the Midata project – and kindly got in touch for a quick chat, and told me that some of them might end up in his article.

My heart sank when I read the headline: “Shamelsss self promotion” – as I thought for a second that the journalist was referring to me! Thankfully he wasn’t, as you will discover should you read it.

I then did the usual nerdy thing of checking out the Economist’s privacy police and cookie policy. Was there one? Yes there was. Was it any good? Yes, it hit the spot.

So keen, indeed, is the Economist to comply with data protection and the cookie rules that it devotes almost 20% of the Privacy policy (which is, thankfully, just 1481 words long) and a further 864 words in a special Cookies Info site, dedicated purely to those obsessed with the cookie stuff.

It would be nice, in say, a year’s time, to ask some companies how many people (or what percentage of visitors) have ever checked out these pages. If I were to predict the likely results, I would be honestly amazed if many people had every deliberately accessed them. Actually, I would be delighted if lots of people had accessed them. After all, it’s taken some companies a lot of effort to make sure they comply with the rules. I wouldn’t want to feel like a group of performers at the Edinburgh Festival who had carefully crafted a show, rehearsed it extensively, booked a decent sized venue, and then played it every night for 3 weeks to an audience of 2.

I do like the advice on whether their site will work if cookies are disabled, and why the message explaining cookies keeps appearing:

"You can browse The Economist online with cookies disabled, though some interactions may not work. For example, ticking the “Stay logged in” box at login will not actually keep you logged in to the site unless you have enabled cookies.

If you close the banner and it reappears the next time you visit us, you most likely have cookies disabled. We use a persistent cookie to remember that you closed the banner, but this only works when cookies on our site are enabled."