May 25th is the date by which websites in the UK are expected, by the ICO, to be compliant with the EU cookie directive. If like me you work with analytics data on a day to day basis, you are probably working through how to implement this if you haven’t already and will be extremely worried about the implications for your analytics data.
While I agree that the ruling has good intentions, I believe the ICO’s refusal to reconsider their guidance on the use of analytics cookies presents a severe threat to the ongoing development of the internet in the UK.
How do they envisage organisations are going to be able identify usability issues and improve their websites for the user, in a cost efficient manner, without the ability to track visits anonymously?
This completely benign tracking is absolutely essential to the improvement of all websites, and is the evidence base by which the burgeoning digital industry can judge and monitor its own performance. By forcing the sector down a costly and time-consuming route to compliance the ICO will only hamper effectiveness and limit future opportunities, and all for the sake of protecting completely anonymous data being captured that ultimately benefits the user. We all know that analytics data dropped by 90% after they introduced the opt-in themselves on the ICO site, so they can’t expect any site owner to realistically believe that we will be able to assess our websites in any meaningful way after May.
I will give you two examples from my own organisation, Great Ormond Street Hospital. The first is the information we provide to terminally ill teenagers. We use analytics to assess the relevance and merit of the content, as well as to ensure that a recently diagnosed child is able to navigate our site to find the information they need as quickly as possible.
How does the ICO believe their guidance is benefiting that user when they are making it extremely difficult for us to judge the site’s success or otherwise in providing this information, if the general trend is for users to opt out?
Secondly, we are encouraged within the third sector to use social media to harness the support of our community, and so for the first time this year GOSH is investing in a social media marketing campaign to promote participation in a fundraising event. As of May we will be unable to assess whether this campaign has been a success – based on the ICO’s data we expect 90% of users to opt out of analytics cookies.
How does the ICO’s ruling assist non-profit and public organisations to grasp digital opportunities such as those presented by social media, when they are essentially stripping us of our means to understand where and how best to invest resources by taking away our capacity to comprehensively track campaign results?
Analytics data is benign, anonymous, aggregated and is in no way obtrusive to someone’s privacy. While I understand the efforts to limit retargeting, which users do find intrusive, limiting opportunities to monitor site visits through the use of analytics cookies is ultimately bad for organisations across all sectors, bad for end users and bad for the internet.