This is a transcript of episode 78 of the Let’s Get Data-Driven Podcast

I’m Lanie Lamarre and I researched and bought a bread maker, and I’m not angry at the types of things I’m now being targeted with. And I know that people think because I talk about responsible marketing, that I’m against targeted ads and tracking – I’m totally not and you may be surprised with how much tracking I do intentionally allow. For instance, I tend to go for walks very early in the morning, sometimes before the sun is even out, and I also have listened to a number of true crime podcasts that have instilled irrational fears into my psyche, so I have location tracking enabled on my phone that my husband has access to in case he wakes up to darkness and wonders where his wife is, and it makes everyone feel better. But the fact that this is intentionally enabled and intentionally shared with one person is the point: I’ve consented to this and I’m very aware of what’s happening and being recorded and I’m good with it. So let’s talk about that sort of thing a little more today.

A friend asked me this question recently and although it’s not an Office Hours question, it’s Office Hours adjacent and it’s a very good question I wanted to share. That’s why today, I’m answering “when I visit a website and the pop-up asks me if I will “accept all cookies”, when should I accept that option and when is it more appropriate to decline or disable cookie-tracking?”

We’ve been talking a lot about cookie-tracking this season because it’s such a big topic in marketing right now. In fact, some are referring to this time as the Cookie-pocalyse – charming AND dystopian, no?

And as someone who navigates the world wide web, I’m sure you’ve noticed a significant increase in sites that will have this banner that automatically shows up asking you if you’re willing to accept the use of cookies on the site you’re visiting. The reason you’re seeing this increase is in large part because of GDPR regulations that push for obtaining explicit consent to having the data and website activities of EU residents tracked. “Explicit consent” is when someone is taking an active role in communicating that they are in agreement and are OK with what is being done; this is different from “implied consent”, which is what’s happening when how and what you’re tracking buried in your privacy policy and/or terms of use, and the assumption is made that the visitor agrees to these terms by visiting the site in question.

As far as whether you should or shouldn’t provide your explicit consent to the websites that you’re visiting, it’s going to depend – I know, it always depends, doesn’t it? – but it’s going to depend on a couple things:

  • What types of cookies you’re consenting to the use of; and
  • How data collection, storage and use is being made.

Let’s start with dessert and talk about cookies first because as we discussed in episode 71, third-party cookies are the ones that track and record everything you do online – on the website you’re visiting AS WELL AS elsewhere – and as we discussed in episode 76, there are also session cookies that will track what you’re doing on that site and that’s it.

You may be OK with session cookies because these allow websites to show content that will better suit the device they’re using to view it, and of course, it helps the website owner better understand how their assets are being used so they can use that information to improve how they’re showing up for the people they serve.

There are also persistent cookies that don’t follow and track everything you’re doing on the interwebs but they do serve to recognize when people come back to a site. These are definitely something you want to accept when you’re adding a bunch of stuff to cart that you want to come back to later or if you want to say logged into an account on that site.

And of course, third-party cookies, which we’ve talked about in past episodes, are on their way to being obsolete but are still currently a very real thing. When you allow these, you’re essentially saying, “yup, you can track everything I say, do and visit, and you can share that information, too.”

Which brings us to how the data is being collected, stored and use, because one site may have several third-party cookies enabled. I posted an example to my Instagram Stories last year – and I’ll link to that in the shownotes – but I went, a popular and common website, to provide an example of how pervasive the presence and use of third party cookies can be. Using a privacy tool extension, it was quickly determined that 45 trackers were blocked, most of which were advertising companies who would be collecting, storing and using my personal information and website behaviors to sell.

And that means everything – from the cute dress you looked up, to the ointment you ordered, to the mental health term you looked up, to the banking information you entered – you can assume it’s all up for grabs and it’s all being stored.

This is why it’s a good idea to look at what exactly is being collected and by whom before you accept all cookies.

Fortunately, most sites will give you the option to “accept all cookies” or “only use essential cookies”. When you select “only use essential cookies”, you’ll sometimes see the website you’re visiting go a little wonky and some of the features or inserts won’t work. A good example of this is the embedded YouTube videos will have show up as a placeholder rather than with this video; this is because those embedded YouTube videos are tracked on behalf of Google and are therefore using cookies that are not essential to the function of the website and you have therefore disabled.

Meanwhile, some websites will straight up be, like “nope!” if you don’t consent to the use of cookies and you will not be able to view any of their content at all. That’s a choice.

But that’s the point: these are all choices. Personally, I have to say that I like some targeted advertising. I don’t mind – in fact, I very much enjoy! – being pitched something that I was looking for or that is related to my interests.

That doesn’t mean I want EVERYTHING I’ve looked for and ALL of my interests being targeted. I do want to have some say in it and that’s what consent is all about. If you’re online, you cannot avoid cookies and tracking isn’t an inherently bad thing; but there does have to be some sort of awareness and agreement as to what is being done there.

Some websites will allow you to set your tracking preferences and if you want an example of that, head to where I use a service called Termly to allow people to opt in and out of whatever tracking they are comfortable with. The other advantage to using a service like this as online business owners is it’ll help keep you honest and aware of the tracking you have in place. For instance, when I first started using Termly, it caused me to clean up any unnecessary tracking I didn’t realize I had in place – great! But then I updated my recommended resources page, and I don’t know what I was thinking – I clearly was not thinking because this is common sense – but by including a bunch of affiliate links on my page, it meant I installed something like 12x the tracking cookies on my website.

This means if I were someone else coming to my site and I selected preferences and saw how many tracking cookies were on my site, I wouldn’t even bother reading through them all; I would straight up disable cookies because that’s too much work for me to read through.

Of course, as soon as I noticed this, it was a “drop everything and let’s fix this ASAP” scenario – which I since have – but I encourage you to look at your own assets through that same lens of “if I were my own website visitor, what would I do?” Because even I need to check myself on this stuff on a regular basis, and using a data compliance tool like Termly will bring consciousness to what role you’re playing, and what information you may not even realize you’re collecting for third parties.

As such, I keep my website pages separate from my landing and sales pages. My actual content has limited tracking but once someone decides they’re interested in signing up for something or buying something and they click through to one of those sales or landing pages, that’s where I have more tracking enabled. I don’t need to be tracking #allthethings to the maximum ability, so I don’t and I’m intentional about how much I am tracking based on what I need to know about the person visiting that page.

So when should you allow cookies? You should allow cookies when you’re comfortable with what is being tracked.

If I’m reading up on sensitive medical or banking information, for instance, I personally never want any of that stuff tracked. “But you can stay logged in easier if you enable it”, they may say and to that, I’ll say “no thank you, I’ll log in every time, it’s fine.” But if I’m researching new planner binders to buy (true story), I do want that tracked because if people are marketing planner binders that I don’t know about, I wanna see them. However, if I’m reading up and educating myself on something, I may or may not want to be tracked, depending on the source of the information and the type of information I’m seeking out. I may want to adjust my tracking preferences on this one, and I appreciate having the ability to do so.

And that’s how the tracking cookie crumbles, boss. I hope this was helpful and I encourage you to check out what kind of crumble you’re working with on your own website!

Talk soon, baiiiieee!