Yesterday (Sunday) marked the start of a new era in cookie use. EU guidelines mean that from the end fo this weekend, websites must obtain “informed consent” before storing cookies on visitors machine. Most web sites are expected to be in breach of this new law when it comes into force.

Can users benefit? I would have to say yes, users can certainly benefit, albeit in a very small way. Obviously advertisements online are inescapable, it makes sense to have adverts relating directly to your interests being displayed rather than say horse saddles to an ardent motorcyclist.

The balance of benefits though seems clearly in favour of advertisers and site owners. Advertisers gain a hugely increased insight into consumer behaviour in general and are able to effectively target their material with a higher degree of accuracy, site owners should also theoretically reap the benefits of increased click-through, resulting in a higher income.

In some ways the new approach of seeking consent resembles an opt-out system which grates strongly with my idea of personal information protection. My browsing habits and interests are my own and it is my choice whether I choose to share them, while there are portals that enable you to opt-out en masse from the advertising cookies of all the major networks, perhaps the most effective defence is to run your browser in private browsing mode or use the browser settings to opt out of tracking, where available.

The implementation of the EU directive on cookies is certainly going to make the web experience a little less seamless, and may have the unintended and unfortunate consequence of educating users into the habit of clicking “allow” on every pop-up (thus including the dubious ones), if that is the way in which web sites implement it.

However the UK Department of Culture Media & Sport has made clear in a letter that EITHER the modification OR the leaving at default of browser settings can be interpreted to signify consent as long as the user is adequately informed. If you consider the kinds of EULAs and T&Cs we are already expected to read and consent to before using various services, it is clear that “adequate information” can easily be buried in small print or 72 page documents, which again will lead to the allow everything culture.

It could be as simple as a case of “plus ça change…”