Since 2012 it's been a legal requirement for every website in the UK to inform you about cookies and how they're used, as part of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.
What is a computer cookie?
Cookies have been around since they were implemented in the Netscape web browser in 1994. The name is derived from a magic cookie, which is a packet of data used in the Unix operating system. This itself derives from fortune cookies, which are crispy things with little messages inside. Computer cookies are little pieces of data which are stored on your computer by your web browser as you use the internet.
What are they for?
When you visit a website, it doesn't know who you are. This isn't necessarily a good thing if it's a website that you visit frequently. If you've ever ticked the little "Keep me logged in" box then you've essentially asked the website to store a cookie on your computer that contains a coded string which, when passed to the web server can identify who you are. This is why those boxes usually warn you not to tick the box if you're using a shared computer.
Cookies are useful in many ways. Some websites use them to store things you've added to a shopping basket so that if you leave the website and come back and you weren't logged in, those items haven't disappeared. You've probably heard of tracking cookies, and these cookies are used to follow your journey through a website. This may sound scary, but it's actually really helpful to retailers and advertisers to see if you found the thing you were looking for. One of their jobs is to make sure that happens as easily as possible, and this insight is a bit like those people that stand on the high-street asking you questions. If you understand your customers, you can serve them better.
Why do you need to tell me about them?
Privacy is a big part of our lives. Although we like to be helped, we don't like to be spied on. But sometimes the best way to help someone is to watch them for a while and then offer suggestions. Although this has been happening on the internet for almost its entire lifetime, it was thought that people knew nothing about cookies and needed educating.
The main reason though, unfortunately, is ultimately because of web developers with no knowledge of security. In the past, cookies have been used to store passwords, personal information, etc. which is very silly indeed. This sort of thing shouldn't happen anymore, but it's always down to you the user to decide whether you trust a website, or want to leave.
Which cookies do you use?
We use Google Analytics on our site which is a service provided by Google and which allows us to see what sort of visitors come to our website. The sort of information we gather from this is: Which country you're from, what resolution your display is, any keywords you used to find us in Google, etc. Google Analytics does not and cannot collect personally identifying information from you. Everything it collects is completely anonymous. So don't worry if you're browsing our site on Internet Explorer 6; we can't work out who you are and chastise you accordingly!
|__utmc||End of browser session||Not used in ga.js. Set for interoperability with urchin.js. Historically, this cookie operated in conjunction with the __utmb cookie to determine whether the user was in a new session/visit.|
|_ga||2 years||Used to distinguish users.|
|_gat||10 minutes||Used to throttle request rate.|
Do I have to accept cookies?
No. You can block all cookies, cookies from individual websites, and cookies from certain advertisers. We don't recommend that you disable cookies completely because many websites rely on them at least in part. You'll quickly discover that many websites malfunction if you stop accepting cookies. This can be achieved in your web browser and various advertiser websites.