by Vincenzo Tiani
On 31 May, Noyb, the non-governmental organisation led by Max Schrems, the activist who led to the invalidation of the agreements between the EU and the US on the transfer of personal data because they were deemed to be insecure, announced that it had developed software that analyses the cookie policies of the most visited European websites to highlight how and when they unduly lead users to accept cookies. Cookies are those computer traces that users leave behind while surfing the web and that store everything they do online. All this information collected creates a profile of the user (e.g. he buys a lot online, mainly through a high-end iPhone, does a lot of searches for 5-star hotels) which is then ‘sold’ to advertisers. The more accurate the user profile, the higher its commercial value.
In recent months, thanks also to the increased awareness of users following the introduction of the Gdpr three years ago, the big tech companies have also started to offer cookie-free solutions. Apple, with the latest software update iOS 14.5 for iPhones and iPads, allows users to block the tracking of what they do. Google, on the other hand, has announced that its Chrome browser will soon block access to third-party cookies, as other browsers such as Apple’s Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Duck Duck Go already do. This means that the data on the user’s browsing will be available only to the site on which he is browsing (and to Google), without being accessible to others.
Cookie banners under observation
Noyb will use its software to scan the web for the cookie banner settings of the most visited sites. The type of settings under Noyb’s lens are the fact that the “reject all cookies” button is not immediately visible until after clicking on the banner link, or that the “accept all cookies” button is coloured while the other is grey, prompting the unwitting user to click it. Or that cookies are pre-selected as accepted for marketing.
Proof that a clear and neutral message in the banner can help users to make a more informed choice is the fact that after Apple’s update to iOS 14.5 users who chose to be tracked were on average 12%, with a drop to 4% in the United States.
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