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Wouldn’t life be easier if you could just drop whatever cookies you liked onto your website visitors’ browsers? After all, cookies are nothing more than strings of text—you could have your website use dozens of cookies and it would hardly matter. 

Depending on your point of view, it’s either fortunate or unfortunate that this is not the case. Data privacy regulations require businesses to manage their cookies in a compliant, responsible, and ethical way that respects consumers’ data privacy rights. 

The downside of this? It’s hard. Managing cookies takes up a lot of time that could otherwise be spent growing your business. But as with most things, there’s a hard way and an easy way to manage your cookies. In this article, we’ll walk you through some cookie management strategies that can reduce your workload for both cookies and privacy management. 

Understanding the Importance of Cookie Management 

What are Cookies and Why are They Important? 

Cookies are small text files that websites store on a user's device. They serve various purposes, such as remembering user preferences, tracking user behavior, and enabling personalized content. Cookies play a vital role in enhancing the user experience and improving website functionality. 

For example, consider a scenario where you visit an online shopping website and add items to your cart. Without cookies, every time you navigate to a different page or refresh the page, your cart would be empty. However, with the help of cookies, the website can remember the items you added and keep them in your cart, even if you leave the website and come back later. This convenience saves time and makes the online shopping experience seamless. 

In addition to improving user experience, cookies also enable websites to gather valuable insights about user behavior. By tracking which pages users visit, how long they stay on a page, and what actions they take, websites can analyze this data to make informed decisions about content, design, and marketing strategies. This data-driven approach helps businesses optimize their websites and tailor their offerings to better meet the needs and preferences of their users. 

Why Cookie Management Matters: User Experience, Data Privacy, and Your Time 

While cookies can significantly improve user experience, they have raised concerns regarding data privacy. With increasing regulations and user awareness, it is crucial for businesses to understand and address these concerns.  

One of the main concerns related to cookies is the collection and storage of personal data. Cookies can potentially track sensitive information such as browsing history, login credentials, and even financial details if not properly managed. This raises questions about user consent, data security, and the potential for unauthorized access to personal information. 

Furthermore, the use of third-party cookies has become a topic of debate in recent years. Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one the user is currently visiting. They are commonly used for advertising and tracking purposes. While they can provide valuable data to businesses, they also raise privacy concerns as they can track users across multiple websites, creating a comprehensive profile of their online activities. However, browsers have slowly but steadily been dropping support for third-party cookies, in part due to these privacy concerns. 

Part of what makes cookie management so essential is striking a balance between the user experience and their data privacy rights. On the one hand, you need access to data that helps you grow as a business and serve your customers better; on the other, you don’t need so much data that you put your website visitors’, users’, and customers’ privacy rights at risk. 

Furthermore, once you embark on your compliance journey and actually start managing cookies on your website, you’ll find that it can be a pretty time-consuming endeavor. Simply choosing to ignore all of this and be noncompliant isn’t really an option—thus, if you’re interested in having the time to perform your core duties, you’ll need to learn how to be efficient in managing cookies.  

Effective cookie management strategies are the key to enhancing the customer experience, respecting user data privacy rights, and balancing your workload all at once. 

Essential Elements of Cookie Management: What Do You Need to Manage? 

Cookie Consent 

Obtaining user consent is a fundamental aspect of cookie management. Websites should inform users clearly about the use of cookies and provide an option to accept or decline them. Transparent and user-friendly consent forms are essential to ensure compliance with data protection regulations and establish trust. 

When designing cookie consent forms, it is crucial to provide users with comprehensive information about the types of cookies used, their purpose, and the potential impact on privacy. This transparency allows users to make informed decisions about their online privacy and the use of their personal data. 

Furthermore, cookie consent forms should be user-friendly and easy to understand. Complex legal jargon should be avoided to ensure that users can easily comprehend the implications of accepting or declining cookies. By creating a seamless and intuitive consent process, websites can enhance user experience and foster a sense of trust. 

Cookie Lifespan 

Cookie lifespan refers to the duration for which cookies remain on a user's device. Implementing appropriate cookie lifespans is vital to balance convenience and privacy. Cookies that expire too quickly may disrupt user experience, requiring users to repeatedly log in or reconfigure settings. On the other hand, cookies with excessively long lifespans may raise concerns about data security and privacy. 

To address these concerns, websites should carefully consider the lifespan of their cookies and provide users with options to manage them. This can include features such as cookie expiration reminders, allowing users to set preferences for cookie lifespans, or providing an easy way to delete cookies at any time. 

By empowering individuals to have greater control over their online privacy, websites can build trust and loyalty among users. Offering flexible cookie lifespan options demonstrates a commitment to user privacy and data protection, which is crucial in today's digital landscape. 

Third-Party Cookies 

Third-party cookies, often used for tracking and advertising purposes, can raise privacy concerns. These cookies are set by domains other than the one the user is currently visiting. Websites should provide options to manage third-party cookies or offer alternatives such as opting out of personalized ads. 

Transparency and control mechanisms play a crucial role in maintaining user trust and complying with privacy regulations. Websites should clearly disclose the presence of third-party cookies and provide users with the ability to manage their preferences. This can include options to block specific third-party cookies, restrict their access to personal data, or completely disable them. 

Furthermore, websites should educate users about the implications of third-party cookies and the potential risks associated with them. By providing clear information and control options, websites can empower users to make informed decisions about their online privacy and protect their personal data from unwanted tracking or targeted advertising. 

Data Transfers and Flow 

When a cookie collects personal information, that information is stored somewhere. Under data privacy regulations, that “somewhere” is an important thing to keep track of. 

If a cookie stores personal information in an internal system, a vendors’ database, an adtech network, another country, or any number of other places, that matters. Data privacy regulations might require you to:  

  • Implement certain contractual agreements with external parties who receive your consumers’ personal information. 
  • Conduct assessments on whether the personal information will be safe in that jurisdiction. 
  • Block the transfer of data based on consumer consent. 
  • And more. 

Thus, adding cookies to your website with abandon can create a lot more compliance work for you down the road. Part of an effective cookie management strategy will be assessing whether the cookie creates an additional compliance burden on your organization, whether that burden is worth the effort, and whether you really need that particular cookie and personal data in the first place. 

Cookie Categories and Personal Information Categories 

Certain regulations also require you to provide granular control to consumers over which categories of cookies they consent to. Generally, these categories aren’t explicitly spelled out, but commonly, you’ll see cookies split into the following groups: 

  • Essential—cookies that are required for the website’s basic functionality. 
  • Marketing—cookies that may be used to personalize advertisements. 
  • Analytics—cookies that provide information on website performance, usually in aggregate. 
  • Personalization—cookies that remember visitor details to provide a personalized experience, such as remembering login info. 

If you’re subject to such a law, then you’ll need to categorize each cookie on your website based on its functionality, and you’ll need a cookie management solution that can block or fire these cookies based on visitor consent. Cookie management means being able to categorize your cookies efficiently so that you can act on this requirement. 

Beyond the category of cookie, you’ll also need to determine the categories of personal information that cookie collects—specifically, whether it is sensitive personal information or regular personal information. 

Different laws have different definitions around sensitive personal information, but they all require higher standards of protection and apply higher penalties with associated violations. Thus, if your cookies are collecting sensitive personal information, your compliance workload will increase, making this distinction important to track in an effective cookie management strategy. 

Implementing Cookie Management Strategies 

There are multiple ways you can make the cookie management process more efficient. What’s more, these strategies will have the added benefit of making your privacy program and your consumer rights posture stronger overall. Let’s dive in.  

1. Craft a Clear Cookie Policy 

A clear and accessible cookie policy is essential to effective cookie management. Businesses tend to think that cookie policies exist solely for the consumer’s benefit. That’s certainly true, but one of the most significant benefits of a clear cookie policy is that it forces the business to formalize the processes and—well—policies when it comes to cookie management.  

Remember: If you claim to do something in your privacy or cookie policies, it must reflect your business’s actual practices. That can sound intimidating, but your policies can and should be living documents that you update as your processes mature. 

We would be remiss not to mention that cookie policies are also for the consumer, and their understanding of them will impact your cookie management. If consumers are well-informed about your cookie usage, you’ll have an easier time managing DSAR requests as well as cleaner data derived from your cookies. As a rule, confused consumers are rarely a source of clean data—rather, consumers who understand what they are or are not consenting to will be more understanding of any resulting marketing, analytics, personalization, or advertising efforts that rely on their data. 

2. Develop User-Friendly Consent Banners 

Obtaining user consent should be a seamless and user-friendly process. Cookie consent banners should clearly explain the implications of accepting or declining cookies, provide easy-to-understand options, and link to your policy documents. 

As before, doing this helps promote the cleanliness of the personal information you collect and reduces follow-up compliance tasks. Consumers who understand what they’re consenting to are far less likely to file DSARs with your organization. When they do, they are more likely to be informed, actionable DSARs that don’t take up too much of your time. 

While this doesn’t make cookie management easier per se, it does reduce your overall compliance burden, which gives you more time to engage in other cookie management strategies that streamline your privacy program. 

3. Conduct Regular Cookie Audits 

Regularly auditing cookies on a website helps identify and eliminate unnecessary or outdated ones, thereby reducing your cookie management burden. In conjunction with cookie lifespans, regular audits ensure that cookies are relevant, up-to-date, and aligned with the website's goals and privacy standards. Audits also provide an opportunity to review and update the cookie policy accordingly. 

During a cookie audit, it is important to assess the purpose and necessity of each cookie. This involves evaluating whether the cookie is still serving its intended function and whether it collects any personal information or sensitive personal information—just like we discussed above. By removing unnecessary cookies, websites can reduce the amount of data collected and stored, minimizing potential privacy risks. 

Tools for Effective Cookie Management 

Unfortunately, effective cookie management isn’t feasible without a software solution to automate key tasks. It is technically possible to develop a privacy policy, a consent banner, and a cookie audit mechanism in-house, but it effectively means spinning up another line of business to manage these tools. Cookie management and data privacy software platforms like Osano offer a suite of capabilities that make the end-to-end cookie lifecycle easier to manage, such as: 

  • Cookie banners that comply with the world’s dozens of data privacy regulations in 40+ languages. 
  • A consent management platform (CMP) that can be quickly implemented with one line of JavaScript. 
  • Regular cookie scanning to catch new scripts and tags on your site as well as automated recommendations for their categories. 
  • Data mapping capabilities to help you identify where collected personal information flows throughout and out of your organization. 
  • Policy management tools to help you update and track changes to your privacy and cookie policies. 
  • And much, much more. 

Schedule a demo of the Osano platform today to find out how it can help reduce your cookie management burden—along with all the other tasks required for a robust data privacy program. 

Schedule a demo of Osano today

Cookie Governance Checklist

Want to learn the 7 fundamental steps to effective cookie governance? This checklist walks you through the full cookie lifecycle, from new request to ongoing maintenance.

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Cookie Governance Checklist Resource Listing
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