If you’ve never come across the term cookies before, they are small text files that websites save to your computer that allows them to store and use information during your visit. Some cookies are used to store settings so that the website can remember them between loading pages (e.g. to remember items that you’ve put in your shopping basket), others are used to identify your device to the website so it can analyse how you use the site. Many cookies are harmless but some cookies are used to track you across multiple websites and target you with relevant advertising. You can find out more about cookies at http://allaboutcookies.org.
At present there are four ways in which cookies are used across the beta:
1) Storing location information
Like the alpha, some parts of the beta will provide you with location specific information (finding your local register office for example). In these cases, this location information will be saved in a cookie so you don’t have to keep entering it every time. Before we set the cookie, we will make it clear that a cookie will be set and ask for your consent. The location cookie won’t contain any personally identifiable information.
2) Storing usability settings
Cookies will be used to store any of the usability/customisation settings that are selected so they can be maintained across the site. We will make it clear that a cookie will be set if you use these settings.
3) Specific functionality enhancements
In some parts of the beta we may offer cookie or HTML5 local storage based enhancements to the functionality. Before we use these however, we will make it clear that these require the storage of information and ask for your consent.
4) Measuring the usage of the website
Collecting analytics and information about usage is vital to running any website. It’s a key way to make sure the product is meeting its users’ needs and understanding how it could do that better. For the beta, we will be using Google Analytics to collect usage data and will make it clear to users that we are doing so.
Cookies are an essential part of ensuring any modern website can deliver what its users need. In particular, the use of analytics is essential to our approach on the beta, making sure everything we do is driven by user needs and informed by user behaviour.
There has been a lot of discussion across public and private sector websites about how best to implement the PECR and deal with the challenges it poses to their current operation. As a government website we take very seriously our obligation to make sure that our users are well informed about how we’re using the technologies at our disposal and that has driven our thinking in developing this approach. We’d welcome your views on whether we’ve got it right and what, if anything, you’d like to see us do differently in the future?