Have you noticed that when you arrive on our website you don’t have to ‘Accept Cookies’? Do you notice the lack of adverts assaulting you mid-article? The clean design experience with no banners along the top and sides?
Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t.
But, hopefully you enjoy the experience of being on Live Frankly.
We didn’t remove cookies just for the experience, though. That was a bonus. For us, this is a matter of integrity.
It all started with a conversation I had with a much-respected digital activist and adviser to Live Frankly, Sean Buchan, in January 2021. Let me break it down for you…
Do you accept Cookies?
Cookies really bother me. My body feels a little tense every time I have to click ‘accept’, which I do multiple times a day – and I’m sure you do, too.
The reason it annoys me is that it’s a false choice.
Most people don’t really know what cookies are or what they’re agreeing to. Plus, who has the time or the inclination, to decide which cookies we’re willing to accept or reject on every site we visit?
Obviously, most of us click ‘accept’ unthinkingly. But, it’s an unreasonable ask.
“There is a strong argument that the pop-up boxes asking you to ‘accept’ aren’t enough and organisations’ practices are illegal regardless of whether someone hit the button or not. There are some who say that the whole model of the Internet might be illegal as a result – which I tentatively agree with.”Sean Buchan
So, Sean and I got to asking, why are all these companies even using cookies? And could we get rid of cookies from Live Frankly?
The short answers are probably because they haven’t really thought about the impact; and yes, yes we could.
The longer answer is a six month journey of twists, turns, what ifs and how abouts. But, I’ll keep this succinct.
First up, not all cookies are created equal. Some are OK and some (largely, the ones you have to ‘accept’) are more problematic.
Almost all websites these days have third-party cookies, where your data is collected by one website and given to others. Essentially, these cookies follow you all over the web, leaving a trail of crumbs. This is valuable data that can be sold to companies (like Google and Facebook) so that they know who you are and what you’re doing.
These are the cookies you’re ‘accepting’.
The website that is using them, is probably not profiting from this directly. We didn’t receive any money from the cookies we installed. We did have access to Google Analytics though, and this gave us data that we looked at regularly – such as what pages you read and how long you stay on them.
Google Analytics holds a lot more information, including who you are (e.g. age, gender, likes) where you’re from in the real world (e.g. London), where you came from in the Internet world (e.g. Twitter), and where you’re going to (where did you click off Live Frankly and which sites did you go to?).
At first, it sounded like a big leap to no longer have access to this granular level of information. But in reality, we didn’t really look at it that much anyway (well, Sean did, it was a much bigger ask of him than me). And neither do a lot of the sites that ask you to accept cookies.
That is the biggest issue – we were not really collecting this data to improve our readers’ experience. We were collecting it so the internet giants (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google) could add our data to another website’s data and sell that very big picture to advertisers – and anyone else who wants it to do good or evil.Lizzie Rivera
As Sean explains:
“Because a small handful of corporations own so much of the infrastructure for this – including entire companies whose sole job is to buy and sell these stacks of data – it can be much easier than you think to create incredibly detailed user profiles of you.
“These user profiles will usually be linked across your multiple devices and include where you live, where you shop, who your friends are, what your interests are, and so on. This kind of cookie behaviour is equivalent to having someone follow you around and take detailed notes.” (Ever leave your GPS on on your phone? This can quite literally be the case!)
Do you remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal? That and other data sharing problems have very real life impacts, such as swaying who we vote for, what we believe in, and further entrenching opinions on everything from vaccines to climate change – regardless of what side you sit on – by specifically targeting specific groups of people with (mis)information.
For us, the question of privacy and who we share our – and your – data with has become an ethical one.
And we’ve decided to be more cautious with our – your – data. We use Plausible Analytics to collect much less data now – literally only page views, how long you’ve spent on a page, how you happened across our website and which links you click. Plausible refuse to share this with anyone else.
We’ve never done targeting advertising – which involves telling Facebook and Google about what you did on our site, maybe pass over your e-mail address and phone number – but, to be frank, we did consider it. Now, however, we’re explicitly promising not to.
In other words, we’ve removed third-party cookies from our site.
We call this #Cookieactivism and are under no illusions this will become a trending hashtag anytime soon. But, we’re proud to be among the pioneers of this. We sleep easy knowing we’re doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing.
Doing all of this has come at the cost of a large time investment, some financial cost of finding alternatives to solutions, as well as the cost of not having the data that competitors will surely be using to get ahead. But, we’re not in this for the big bucks. For us, our integrity is more important.
You have to draw the line somewhere, and when it comes to data sharing, enough is enough for us – your data, your privacy.
Lizzie Rivera, Founder Live Frankly
With thanks to:
Sean, our go-to activist and digital marketer. He’s been incredibly busy of late taking Facebook to task over climate change, but he will be publishing his two part series on #cookieactivism on his Medium account before the year’s out.
Matt Bilbow, our in-house developer, whose skills, patience and advice has been invaluable during a period of the unknown.
We’d love to know what you think about this – if you care, or if you don’t. Or if you’re still a bit confused and have questions to ask us. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, if you’re still reading this and wondering exactly how we did it, there’s a really great article coming soon where Sean explains exactly this, the learnings we took from going through the process, the impact on our marketing insights, and, crucially, how you can do it, too. (What took us six months shouldn’t take you longer than an afternoon!)