Search is on for the Cookie-baker of the Year

ISOC NL and The Data Union give consumers a voice

We all do it sometimes: blithely accept a site's cookies in order to read a particular news article or watch a video. Maybe we're on autopilot, maybe we don't realise how cookies can affect our privacy, or maybe we simply act on the wish to access the content without the inconvenience of reading the site's cookie statement. After all, if you study the cookie statement on every website you visit, your progress around the internet will be very slow indeed. An added problem is that not all organisations are entirely transparent about their cookie use, with some adopting a somewhat lax approach. It's against that background that the Cookie-baker of the Year contest was conceived. It's an initiative by the Internet Society of the Netherlands (ISOC NL) and the Datavakbond (Data Union), intended to give consumers a voice and promote awareness within organisations. Alexander Blom, Chair of ISOC NL and one of the people behind Cookie-baker of the Year, talks about cookie-related problems, the contest and support from SIDN Fund.

Koekenbakker van het Jaar

What's a cookie?

Cookies often get mentioned in connection with the internet. However, not everyone has a clear understanding of what they are. They're small text files saved on your computer, phone or tablet by the websites that you visit. They enable the site to recognise you when you visit again. Typically, they record information such as your customer ID and details of the last product you viewed. There are four basic types of cookie: functional, analytical, social media and advertising cookies. Websites can create functional and analytical cookies without asking for your explicit consent: the files can simply be stored on your device automatically. The situation is different with social media and advertising cookies. Storing those cookies without asking you is against European law (the GDPR), because they can be used for purposes that many people object to, such as tracking what you click on. In the Netherlands, cookies are regulated under the Telecommunications Act. The law is designed to give users control over the cookies stored on their computers, phones and other devices. However, not all website operators abide by the law. Some websites still create cookies automatically without permission, while others make it difficult for users to change their settings, or don't respond to requests, or ask you over and over whether you'll accept their cookies.

Acting on annoyance

Cookie-baker of the Year is a contest to find the organisation that's worst at adhering to the laws on cookies. The idea came from shared annoyance with some organisations' approach to cookies, says Alexander. "I happened to read a cookie statement that was so ridiculous that I felt I had to respond. I went to the trouble of contacting the organisation, but they never replied. I realised that, as an individual consumer, an individual website user, you're just a voice in the wilderness. You can shout all you like, but no one's listening." So the Cookie-baker of the Year contest was conceived as a way of giving consumers a collective voice, hopefully a voice that's loud enough to command the attention of website operators. Alexander says that the idea behind the booby-prize contest isn't to point an accusing finger, but to highlight the scope for improvement. The contest is in effect a vehicle for promoting awareness, through which ISOC NL and the Data Union aim to give consumers a voice and draw site owners' attention to inaccuracies and flaws in their cookie statements. "I think it'll take a few years to go from the cookie law being regarded as a pain to being accepted as a useful tool that everyone's happy with," says Alexander. "The Cookie-baker of the Year contest can hopefully help that process along."

How the contest works

"On the website koekenbakkervanhetjaar.nl, there's a form that anyone can use until 15 December to nominate websites that they don't think are sticking to the rules. Filling in the form involves answering six questions about the non-compliant website you've come across, pinpointing the issues. What cookies are enabled by default? How hard is it to state your preferences? And does the website offer alternatives for people who don't want cookies?" explains Alexander. Each nominated website owner will be contacted by the contest organisers to tell them that they have been nominated and why. Naturally, the hope is that they'll immediately put things right. "Each week, we focus on a different sector of the economy. So, for example, there's a government week, when we are especially keen to hear about non-compliant websites run by government agencies and other semi-public bodies. How good are the cookie and privacy statements on the sites of ministries and municipalities?" asks Alexander. However, it's not the case that in government week you can only nominate government websites. Alexander and his team want to hear about as many websites as possible, to provide the fullest possible picture of compliance in the field.

Support from SIDN Fund

SIDN Fund is an enthusiastic supporter of the Cookie-baker of the Year contest. Marieke van der Kruijs, Project Coordinator at SIDN Fund: "It's the public information dimension of Cookie-baker of the Year that makes the project attractive to us. It's not all about shaming non-compliers. By telling nominated organisations about problems and by promoting awareness, the contest organisers are firmly incorporating a call-to-action. At the same time, they're drawing the general public's attention to cookies: what they are and the problems associated with them. So the project supports our goal of user empowerment by providing clarity and insight for internet users."

Cast your vote!

An announcement about the most frequently nominated websites will be made after 15 December. People will then be able to vote for the biggest cookie-baker, ahead of presentation of the Cookie-baker Trophy on 15 January 2020. So cast your vote, and it might be you handing over the trophy in the New Year!

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