Cookie consent: annoying and debatable
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Cookie consent: annoying and debatable

In 1994, Lou Montulli, founding engineer at Netscape created the session cookie to make shopping carts for e-commerce stores possible. Since then, many new types of cookies have been cooked up, some less innocent than the original. As a step towards protecting personal data and guaranteeing the right to privacy, in 2011, the EUestablished the Cookie Law which requires websites to explain the purposes of their cookies and ask for users’ consent. I reject tracking (third-party) cookies, the ones that “enhance” my online experience. If I didn’t use an ad blocker, I might see dog instead of cat product ads because that’s what I buy online. What’s the harm of letting websites track me to serve me personalized ads? Why is this a problem?

-by Yoo Lee, MYP English teacher

My partner and I debate about cookies. He says the Cookie Law was created by people who don’t understand privacy. The only reason he rejects cookies is to encourage website owners to get fed up, challenge this ill-informed law, and get rid of it. This guy, Leo agrees and writes, “Your actions as an individual are completely uninteresting.” No one is tracking us as individuals. Our online behavior data is aggregated, we are put into cohorts of similar profiles, and this is used by marketing companies to make ads relevant and lucrative, enabling many websites to give us free content.

Leaving a (digital) fingerprint

When something is free, I’m probably the product. I value having the choice to reject cookies because I don’t want my digital fingerprint to be used for evil. My browser settings block third-party cookies and send do-not-track requests. I leave websites without a coherent privacy policy. Still, I feel vulnerable to having my data sold or worse, stolen, combined with other personal data over which I have no control, and used to identify me as an individual. Sure, digital fingerprinting is useful just like real fingerprints – they are used to combat crime. But if governments and commercial entities can do this, who’s to say those with evil intent can’t use it to conduct crime?

Filter bubbles

Okay, I admit “evil” sounds slightly paranoid. I want to make it difficult for people to manipulate me. With my data, “they” decide what I like or need – there’s no transparency about what “they” know about me. Some sites serve personalized content as well as ads, creating a filter bubble. I have family members who believe Bill Gates conspired to put microchips in covid-19 vaccines. It only takes 3 clicks on YouTube to go down this rabbit hole. Then, there are times I have no clue what’s happening. Have you ever found a great deal on a flight and returned to the website a day later to find the rates increased? Do tracking cookies enable this? Or is it dynamic pricing algorithms or browser fingerprinting? I use an Apple device, so do “they” think I can afford higher prices than an Android user and serve me higher rates? I don’t know. 

Accept all? Reject all!

If there’s a way to protect my privacy, I’m doing it. I’m teaching my children to decide for themselves because I cannot control what they do online. Cookies are not dangerous but the habit of clicking “accept all” to get rid of the annoying pop-up and doing so without thinking, is unwise. Responsible digital citizens should give consent thoughtfully. When in doubt, “reject all”. I invite you to debate me, teach me.

About the author

Yoo acquired her BA in English Literature at Boston University. During her studies in the early 90s, she taught herself internet technology and after graduation, pursued a career as a developer in educational software. In the late 90s, she was recruited to work in The Netherlands and enjoyed a long career as a software development manager for organisations such as Greenpeace International. Yoo then got a second BA in Teacher Education of English at Hogeschool Utrecht and now enjoys teaching English at ISUtrecht. This special article is what we get when the best of both worlds meet!