A new law came into force on May 26th 2011 in the UK and Europe that affect websites and how they deal with the user flow of saving cookies to a visitors browser.
In english, that means that a site must ask all users permission before saving a cookie to their browser.
If you think that’s not a big deal, remember that the internet is what’s called ‘stateless’. Without a method of tracking each user between page requests or form submissions, it may as well be a completely new visitor of which the site knows nothing.
If you think that’s not a big deal then imagine no logging in to a website, no shopping baskets, no Facebook, Twitter or MySpace.
All in all, the average browser already sends a huge chunk of information that a website can use to create a unique footprint which can then be tracked across page views which gives a system with almost as much accuracy as a tracking cookie, without the need for requesting a users permission for setting one.
Now because this workaround is never going to be 100% accurate and very occassionally you may find that two users have exactly the same footprint I would never suggest a website use it to track logged in users (logging in can be the point where you request permission to set a cookie anyway), and I would strongly urge them to steer clear of trusting it, but for visitors which you’d like to track who are not logged in, we may be on to a winner.
If you’d like to learn more, it turns out Panopticlick had the same idea as I have. They’ve written some interesting thoughts too and even have a test to see if you are unique to their website. Check Panopticlick out.
In summary: In most cases we don’t need cookies to track visitors who are not logged in and we can include requesting permission as part of the normal login user flow.
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