Emily Stewart wrote an article for Vox exploring why every website wants you to accept its cookies. You’ve undoubtedly seen these alerts, usually as a sticky element at the footer of a page, asking if its okay to track you with cookies to improve your experience or something equally vague. Like those pointless newsletter full screen popups, we all click them out of the way and grumble about how the web continues to get worse. Or maybe the latter is just me.

These popups were implemented in response to two pieces of legislation, as she explains:

The proliferation of such alerts was largely triggered by two different regulations in Europe: the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a sweeping data privacy law enacted in the European Union in May 2018; and the ePrivacy Directive, which was first passed in 2002 and then updated in 2009. They, and the cookie alerts that resulted, have plenty of good intentions. But they’re ineffectual.

Isn’t it telling that we’ve come to rely upon the European Union to be the gatekeeper for creepiness online?

But I digress. Emily asks at the end of the article if there are better solutions to these invasive and increasingly annoying popups, then lists a few legislative and technical solutions. Seals of approval, industry standardisation, frameworks for transparency and consent, for example. I’ve read a few articles over the last month that include these kinds of recommendations.

Did something immediately jump out at you too?

All these well-meaning solutions, here and in similar articles, suffer the same issue as the popups for which they’re being proposed as alternatives: they only treat the symptoms. The real alternative shouldn’t be changing the UI for window dressing, it’s having less tracking in the first place.

The GDPR was intended to provide users more control over how their data is stored and for what amount of time, and implementing a strong signal for web companies to justify what they store and why, rather than indiscriminately capturing everything. Instead, most sites have implemented the entirely cosmetic and low-effort UAC dialogue from Windows Vista in web form.