Thursday 5 April 2012

The ICC clarifies the cookie conundrum

Those clever folk over at the London Chapter of the International Chamber of Commerce have just published a cunning plan which sets out, in simple terms, what it is that web masters could do to implement the cookie rules. The guidance, because of its universal application, ought to be capable of being followed by webmasters anywhere around the world. In my humble view, it’s a really helpful nudge in the right direction, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the concepts it introduces begin to embed themselves into standard business practice in the fullness of time.

The concept is pretty simple – to classify cookies into 4 categories, and then to give internet users some control over how cookies from these categories could be used to provide them with the sort of on-line experience they are looking for. The hope is that increasing numbers of web masters will use a standard classification system, and consequently develop a standard form of words to explain these concepts to internet users.

When the same message is repeated over and over again, it can sink in. It’s how we learnt our multiplication tables and the Green Cross Code. It’s why we “clunk click, every trip”, and realise that the value of our investments can go down as well as up”. It’s also a helpful way of explaining stuff that almost no-one can understand, but occasionally needs to compare. For example, I have no idea what rocket science is used to calculate an APR when I want to borrow some money, but as every lender is forced to go use the same calculations, I can compare interest rates offered by competing lenders.

So, it is expected, internet users will gradually develop a greater understanding of what goes on behind the scenes when they access internet sites. Thus, their cookie preferences will become more meaningful. And lo, the digital economy will thrive and greater prosperity there will be for all. Halleluiah.

But I must not sound too cynical. I’ll concentrate on the good news today, which is that the ICC have published this great guide which, when applied, really does offer internet users a richer understanding of a web site’s ecosystem. Whether internet users, having been sufficiently informed about what’s going on, will actually change their behaviours in ways that make it harder for web masters to deliver information and services to them, only time will tell. We’ll have to wait and see.

The just as good news is that this ICC guidance does not just appear in theoretical form. If you want to see how it works in practice, take a squint at the BT website ( I am impressed at the way the ICC has gone about its task to educate internet users, and at the clever way it has worked with a great company like BT to show what the user experience could look like.

The ICC has risen to the challenge. It’s taken an unwieldy piece of legislation and has tried to make sense of that it was the legislators were probably trying to say. Well done.

Now all the Member States who haven’t yet got around to implementing the cookie rules have to do is follow the leadership that’s been shown by this initiative. That’s right. All they need to do is to copy the Brits, and common sense can return to the digital community.