On May 25, some European governments will activate laws against automatic web cookies. This means that web sites will have to explicitly ask for user permission every time they want to store any information in your browser. Some people are asking for this in the US too, in the name of privacy.
Some people also need intensive electroshock sessions.
The fact is that, if they were looking to create the most annoying and useless law in the history of the universe, the eurocrats have been completely successful. This is going to be universally hated, while providing no real advantage to the user. As a eurosnob myself, I really hope it never gets exported outside that continent.
Why is this useless and stupid?
It's hard to believe, but the eurocrats have not discovered yet that the internets know nothing about frontiers. And they don't know anything about how the web works. How are they expecting to enforce this ridiculous rule when most sites are not based in their countries? I can't imagine. Maybe they will ask China for a firewall. What this law will do is limit the ability of their web-based companies to compete with other websites outside the European Union. All while annoying every single user in the process.
The companies there have already proposed that, if the EU is so concerned about cookies, then they should educate the users about the privacy options already present in all browsers: You can open your browser preferences panel and turn off cookies completely or by site, as well as deleting them completely or partially. The solution is already there, ready to be used. As a user I find this quite less intrusive than having a pop-up asking me for permission to store a cookie every time. Because, since the site can't store a cookie to know that I don't want cookies, it will ask me if I want to store one every time. That's how paradoxes are created and entire universes are destroyed.
But what really is stupid about this law is the fact that it disregards the actual universe itself. They have created a rule that is not applied in the real world. Every time you go to a store, check a book out of a library, watch a movie or use your credit card in any way, you are getting "cookies". Companies already track your behaviour every single time you go out and buy a t-shirt, get into the subway, put gas in your car or pay your electricity bills. They track you only to give you the privilege of paying.
Cookies are little pieces of information stored in your web browser. Every single site on the web uses them for multiple things, some "good" and useful for the user, the others "evil", but also quite useful. Cookies can tell marketing people where you have been and where are you going, so they can customize the ads you see and learn more about their audience habits. They tell sites if you are a returning user and allow the servers to remember what comments have you read and whatnot. Or they can be used to save preferences, like the skin of the site or how to display information according to your tastes.
The illusion of privacy
I understand some people's desire not to be tracked. I share the feeling. I don't like that my bank knows all the bad reputation locales I go to (actually, I don't care, but let's pretend). And I don't like that Facebook recommended me singles sites when I divorced my second wife.
However, that's how things are today. That's where we, as a society, have put ourselves into. And that's why privacy is an illusion, in the web or elsewhere. Even cutting off all cookies and anonymously browsing the web with a proxy and in incognito mode will not guarantee privacy. The moment you use a credit or debit card online, you will be tagged, just like in real life. As soon as there's a computer system and a database involved, your privacy will be gone.
Sadly, opting out of this life is simply impossible unless you move completely out of the system. You know, grab your pony, your rifle and your guitar, and move to the Yukon, to make your own clothes, hunt animals and look for gold in a creek. Or live a secret life in the city, using fake identities and asking for change in the subway while trying not scratch the itch caused by your tinfoil underpants.
Whatever online privacy these laws can provide is nothing compared to what we have already lost in the real world. Which is why we need a different, more fundamental change, in our education and economic systems. But that's a topic for a completely different rant, and I need to leave to change my tinfoil underpants.