Why do so many websites warn me about cookies?

You may have noticed many websites have started showing you various sorts of warnings about cookies when you first visit them. It's usually some kind of annoying pop-over dialog window which says something like "This site uses cookies - click here to accept".

A couple of examples:

Screenshot of some cookie warnings from other sites

But why do so many sites warn you about this?

Well, it's because of a legal directive passed by the European Union in 2002 called the "ePrivacy Directive" (it's technically not a law). One of the many guidelines it laid down was that websites had to obtain explicit consent from their visitors that it was ok to store cookies on their computer; they could no longer just set cookies without asking.

Because it's a European directive, it only applies to sites based in the European Union; not sites in America or anywhere else.

What does the warning actually do?

The warning is supposed to alert you that the website you're visiting will store cookies on your device. Some websites include an option to control what kinds of cookies will be allowed from that site, letting you choose to only accept cookies required for basic functionality, or to also accept cookies which are related to advertising or tracking.

Don't forget though, that cookies themselves aren't "good or bad", it's just the way that sites use them that matters (related article: why do websites use cookies?).

Consent fatigue

Because these cookie warnings seem to be everywhere and because most people don't really understand cookies anyway, the cookie warnings actually seem to have a bit of a negative effect; you could argue that really what it's doing is training people to just click "Accept" on something that they really don't understand.

And not only that; for the websites that don't give you any options to control what kinds of cookies are used; it's literally just telling you that their website uses cookies. Cookies are vital for most websites to function, so it's not exactly a big deal that a website uses them!

The right idea though...

Consumers are rightfully getting more and more concerned about their privacy and the ways their data is used on the internet and in the world in general, so we understand the European Union wanting to try to do something to help users.

The problem with the cookie warnings is that it's not telling you anything you don't know already;

A better solution

If you're genuinely concerned about being tracked online, the better thing to do is install a web browser extension which protects your privacy by blocking the tracking cookies in the first place! You can also read our series of guides to improving your online privacy.

Hiding the warnings

There's a fantastic browser extension to getting rid of those annoying cookie warnings. Check out the appropriately named "I don't care about cookies" extension!

We tested it out and don't think we saw a single cookie warning for the whole week - very nice. Note that it will explicitly allow the site you're visiting to set cookies, as if you had clicked the "Accept" button. So it's probably a good idea to also install a privacy extension too, to prevent tracking cookies from being set. The two extensions go hand-in-hand with each other. It's available for most browsers that support addons/extensions, so check it out if you're sick of those annoying warnings.

Further reading

Here are some great articles and blog posts about the cookie warnings.

Conclusion

We hope you understand more about why you're seeing these warnings everywhere.

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