Cookies and Digital Governance

By: Richard Beaumont | Thursday, August 27, 2015 | Tagged: Cookie Audit, Digital Governance | Leave Comment

When people see their first Optanon Cookie Audit, the most common responses are along the lines of:

Modern websites are complex beasts. It is often more accurate to think of them as a cloud of aggregated technologies and services than as unified entities. The way they are managed, often with multiple editors and contributors, means they accumulate features and elements over time. Then every 2-3 years (at most) they undergo a re-design, but even then the rationale for having all the different bits of embedded tech is rarely examined. Taking stuff out of a site is seen as riskier (especially for SEO), than leaving it in.

Another driver is the fact that it has got so easy, that a lot less attention gets paid to the technology than the feature it supports. Marketers want videos and chat facilities, they don’t want to worry about how they work.

The cost of active management also plays a role. You put some content up for a campaign, but when the campaign ends, you stop investing in it, which means the content may get relegated or ignored, but rarely taken down. After all – even old campaigns can drive engagement, the cost of leaving them in place is negligible, so what’s the risk?

Stop Data Leakage

All of this has led to a proliferation of technologies on sites, each with their own sets of cookies reporting back to their respective hosts. In particular it is third party widgets, easily added through drop-in tags, that has resulted in a proliferating digital data trail.

The dominant business model of the web, which gives a lot of that tech away for free to site owners, so that the widget developers can get more and more data, also means that there is has been little incentive to think about removing those widgets once they are in place.

However, now that people are having regular cookie audits to comply with the EU rules, things are changing. Website owners are realising that their sites are giving off what to them might be digital exhaust, but to the recipients of that data is a cookie-laden gold mine. 

Bigger brand owners in particular are beginning to realise that it’s not just about cookie law compliance, but broader digital governance.  They are starting to ask themselves:

Here are 5 ways an Optanon Cookie Audit can help you with digital governance:

  1. Identify technologies to remove or change.
    Sometimes, because it’s easy, people will put images or bits of code on their site that are actually hosted somewhere else. This creates data leakage, and the association may be completely irrelevant or inappropriate. We have seen tracking cookies on a corporate website that came from an embedded script hosted on a fan site for a football team. It was probably done by someone for convenience, when the code could, and should have been hosted on the company’s own infrastructure. This was not only bad privacy, it was bad security.
  2. Assess the impact of introducing new technologies.
    There is nothing inherently wrong with installing free add-ons and widgets into a site to give it more functionality. However, you should only do it knowing what the impact will be, and with lots of free stuff there is no documentation or support to tell you. Running a scan over a test page containing the widget will provide you with valuable information before you roll it out.
  3. Manage marketing and other time-limited tags
    Our tags report will tell you how long tags have been on your site. This helps you identify and remove tags that are associated with old campaigns, or for whatever reason have outstayed their welcome. In turn this means you end up leaking data to third parties you are no longer working with.
  4. Inform the development of an internal cookie policy.
    A cookie policy shouldn’t just be led by the tech you have, it should help to determine what tech you will allow on your site. The information in an Optanon Audit can be used to form a policy that can be communicated to web teams, agencies, and editors. This sets some rules so that you don’t expose the organisation to unwanted risks.
  5. Enforce the policy
    Of course having set a policy, you have to be able to check it is adhered to. Optanon can re-audit your site on a regular basis and let you know when it identifies any changes. This makes it easy to ensure that if anything unauthorised finds its way onto your site – you can get rid of it as quickly as possible.

If you need help with any aspect of your digital governance, get in touch today.

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