UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Posts Tagged ‘Cookies’

Are Attitudes Towards Privacy Changing?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 Feb 2012


Liz Lyon, UKOLN Director, recently gave a talk on “The Informatics Transform: Re-engineering Libraries for the Data Decade” at the VALA 2012 conference held in Melbourne, Australia.

The abstract for the talk describes how:

This talk will present a case for a new and transformative library paradigm which delivers innovative informatics services to support data-intensive research. It will draw on cutting-edge exemplars from open data initiatives, public participation and citizen science, socio-ethical challenges with personal data, policy drivers, emergent scholarly communications and research impact metrics /tools, all of which are radically changing the research landscape. The presentation will explore how libraries can respond to these challenges with novel informatics services, new data support roles and pioneering strategic partnerships.

I was particularly interested in the “socio-ethical challenges with personal data” address in the talk. In the talk (and note that a recording of the talk is available) Liz described how a genome kit can be purchased for $99 (or, I discovered, from £59 in the UK).

It seems there are a number of DNA tests which can be carried out including paternity tests, forensic tests and ancestry tests. The DNA ancestry test enables you to:

Discover your deep ancestral roots using genetic genealogy. Find out where your ancestors came from, discover their ethnic background, and trace the roots of your surname.

If you order the test:

Your collection kit will have everything that you need to collect a DNA sample from inside your mouth. It’s fast, painless and simple and very similar to brushing your teeth. The entire process takes just seconds to complete. 

Does that seem appealing or does it fill you with horror? Do you really want to discover such information which would never have been previously available? And although your personal information may be confidential, will anonymised  findings be aggregated to reveal patterns of Viking ancestry around the UK?

In her talk Liz remarked on the privacy implications of such technical developments. Liz went on to report on a Nature survey which, as illustrated below, showed that “Nature readers flirt with personal genomics“. As described in the article:

Nature readers are eager to adopt these new technologies. About 18% report having had their genomes analysed in some way, ranging from whole-genome sequencing (about 10 respondents, after correcting for reporting errors) to direct-to-consumer tests. Of the remainder, 66% say they would have their genome sequenced or analysed if the opportunity arose.

I do wonder whether we are starting to see significantly changing attitudes developing towards privacy issues as technology drives developments not only for genome analyses but also, and more relevant to this blog, revelation of private information whether directly or, through aggregation of data, indirectly?

It seems to me that the forthcoming ‘cookie’ legislation will help to gain an understanding of the general public’s concerns over privacy issues. Those who developed the EU cookie directives felt it was important to ensure that users of web sites are made aware of personal information which is stored in cookies. But cookies have been with us since 1994. What if the cookie legislation, and the requirement for users to opt-in to cookies, results in a backlash, with people wishing to go back to the simplicity of today’s environment in which cookies are invisible to most people. It will be interesting to see how users will respond. And I should add that I’m saying this as someone who has a Facebook account and who, several years ago, installed the a Firefox plugin which enables me to block cookies – but has never done so. Indeed using the plugin for the first time in ages I notice that there are currently 18 cookies set. Am I bothered? The answer is no. Should I be? You tell me. Do you block cookies?

Posted in Legal | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Will Cookie Legislation Mean That Ads Will Become Prevalent?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 14 Feb 2012

Today I launched Firefox for the first time in a long while in order to make use of a Firefox plugin for analysing cookies.

Since the browser was open I used it, rather than Google Chrome which is now my preferred browser, to view one of my blog posts. I found myself looking at a Valentine’s Day advert which was embedded at the bottom of the blog post.

I don’t normally see such ads as they are not displayed to logged in users. The advertisements are used to cover the hosting costs for the blog, and I don’t feel that it is unreasonable for WordPress to recoup their costs by providing such ads. The WordPress store states that:

We sometimes display discreet advertisements on your blog—this keeps free features free!

The ad code tries very hard not to intrude on your design or show ads to logged-in readers, which means only a very small percentage of your page views will actually contain ads.

Since I am normally logged in to WordPress I don’t see ads provided on other blogs hosted on either. Which suggests that a cost-free solution to avoiding ads on blogs is to sign up for a account and ensure that you are always logged in – that would seem to mean that you will have an ad-free environment, but you don’t need to create a blog.

However I suspect that people won’t be motivated to subscribe to a free service simply to remove an ad. After all, ads are common on many web sites and we tend, I feel to ignore the less intrusive ads.

It should also be pointed out the ad providers are aware of the risks of serving too many ads to visitors or of serving inappropriate ads which is why there will be cookies associated with ads. Such cookies can bring benefits to the visitor, by keeping a record of the numbers of ads being served. And just as many users won’t sign up for a service to avoid seeing ads I suspect they will be reluctant to click on Accept cookies messages whenever they visit web sites.

Of course, we could simply configure our browsers to discard any cookies which are being send – which will probably mean that we are treated as a new visitor each time we open a page on a web site and are presented with a steady stream of ads.

I wonder if the cookie legislation will adversely affect the user experience, with users having to choose between clicking on Accept cookies on not every time they visit a web site or rejecting all cookies and having lots of ads to view on commercial web sites?

Am I along in regarding most use of cookies I encounter as benign and wishing that the EU had spent more time in drafting an EU directive which addressed misuse of cookies whilst leaving the user interface environment which is currently enjoyed by large numbers of users alone?

Posted in Finances, Legal | Tagged: | 1 Comment »