We use cookies... and this is a good thing!

As a direct result of a new (and frankly misguided) law on privacy in the EU, many website owners are now being encouraged to put up ridiculous pop-up screens, asking their customers authorise the use of cookies before being allowed to view the website.

These mechanisms are totally unnecessary in the vast majority of cases and only serve to worry or annoy customers. If cookies are only being used for essential functional purposes they do not need to be declared at all. And if they are only being used for anonymous tracking (such as Google Analytics) implied consent, such as a prominent statement, is sufficient.

Whilst we are not obliged to make a declaration on the use of cookies on our website, we have decided to do so, if only to allay any fears our customers may have. So here goes!

This website uses essential functional (session) cookies, which do not identify you in any way. We do not use them for tracking, analytical or any unlawful purposes. 

Under the new EU Cookie Directives, we are not required by law to ask you for permission to use them because they are only used for essential functional purposes. However it should be noted that by continuing to browse our website after reading this statement, you are implying consent.

If you are concerned in any way, you can disable cookies in your browser.  However it is totally unnecessary and will render certain website functions useless, such as shopping carts, retained searches, forms etc.

What is a cookie?
Cookies are harmless pieces of information stored on your computer. They may contain information such as the user-name you use when visiting a particular site, or keep track of the number of times you have visited a site. Cookies can only be read by you, or the web site that created the cookie in the first place, but not by anyone or anything else. 

Why are cookies important?
Cookies are an essential part of the World Wide Web. They enable websites to provide you with a highest levels of functionality and user experience.  It could be argued that they are one of the main factors in the Internet becoming so popular and so widely used. Without them you would not be able to take advantage of online shopping, social networking, forums, online dating etc., and the Internet would essentially become a highly graphical form of Teletext!

Cookies also provide essential marketing information to website owners, enabling them to bring you the best products, at the best prices, in the comfort of your own home.  And this is where some of the controversy kicks in... 

Why all this bad press about cookies?
It is possible to track the activities of someone on a website by using cookies (albeit without being able to identify them personally) and use that information to provide targeted information - such as pop-up advertising, offering products that you may be interested in, based on pages you've looked at. And by using cookies dropped by 3rd party organisations, tracking cookies, it is theoretically possible to pass that information over to other websites, where further targeted promotions could also take place.

Websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc. make heavy use of targeted promotions, showing adverts that are relevant to information stored in your profile or based on conversations you are having.

Other companies, such as Google and Yahoo, provide facilities for website owners to track the effectiveness of their paid advertising. For example, Google Analytics is used purely to track whether a click-though from a particular advert resulted in a sale, and what pages were clicked on once the visitor entered the website.  Nothing more!

Of course, this has caused a huge outcry, mainly caused by ill-informed individuals within the press and government departments, and rather dealing with the actual issues, it has resulted in the EU forcing an unnecessary and totally misguided law to be passed.

Why do you use cookies?
We use cookies to store a unique, randomly generated code, which enables us to store information that you are using within the site - such as shopping cart contents, information you have entered into online forms, and search data etc.  It is only used for the purposes of retaining the information as you move from page to page, and the cookie automatically "dies" at the end of the session. We also use cookies to enable us to provide a members only area. Cookies enable you to stay logged in whilst you browse the members-only areas.

Are cookies a security risk?
No they are not. Some people believe that they are, however this is a common misconception, propagated largely by an ill-informed press. In reality, the worst security risk you are likely to face from cookies is that a website owner will be able to 'tag' your browser when you enter their site and find out how often you (as an anonymous individual) visit and, perhaps, what pages you like to look at. The website owner simply cannot access any information about you, except what you knowingly give them by filling in online forms. What's more, cookies can only be accessed by the web server that set them. So, you still have control over what information you give out, and to whom.

I've been told that cookies are spyware. Is this true?
No. Cookies are NOT spyware. Cookies are information sent by the server to the browser to be stored in a text file on the user's hard drive. Cookies can not be viruses; steal credit card information; steal banking information; or see what software you have on your computer. A cookie is just a file with textual information set by the server.  Our session cookies are just a reference number. As explained above, the most a cookie can do is to pass information between pages within a single website/domain. Some companies use this to provide targeted adverts and/or pop-ups.

The main reason some people object to cookies being used is that they provide an indication (to people who have direct access to your PC) to which websites you have visited, but then again, so do the temporary Internet files that your browser generates. If you have been browsing websites that you don't potentially want others to know about, simply delete the temporary files and cookies once you have finished (under tools, internet options).

OK, so why don't all websites use them?
Cookies aren't generally used on websites that just display static information because there is no need for it. However they are essential to most websites with any kind of functionality. They are actually a key feature of the Internet, specifically designed to enable functionality without compromising security or privacy. 

Do cookies take up space on my hard-drive?
Yes, but it's only a tiny amount and your browser will limit the size of your cookies folder automatically. It certainly isn't anything worth worrying about.

What should I do to enable cookies?
In most browsers, you need to look under Settings, Privacy.  There is normally a tick box or similar where you can enable or disable cookies.  You can also enable them per site. Some browsers have privacy settings such as high, medium and low privacy protection. You should normally select the default - usually Medium - in order to see the World Wide Web at its best, without compromising your privacy.