Cookies, cookies, everywhere… but for how long?

By | March 8, 2021

I’ve got a few bits and pieces to talk about this week – some answers to readers’ questions and a potential big privacy change on the horizon.

I’ll start with a question that comes up every now and then when we’re talking about passwords, and that’s how often you should change them…

How often should I change my passwords?

As with a lot of questions like this, the answer really depends on which techie you ask!  But the evidence suggests it’s actually better not to change your passwords, unless you’re using a password manager (like LastPass) that can remember the new one for you.

Why?

It’s because people who change their passwords a lot tend to use simpler passwords, or change a complex password in a predictable way – otherwise, they’d be incredibly difficult to remember.  For example, someone might have a standard password that they change every month by adding the month and year to the end.  And the more predictable a password is, the easier it is for a crook to crack.

So, the general consensus is that it’s more important to have a strong, secure password than to change it regularly.  Having said that, there are certain times when it’s important to change your password (and change it in an unpredictable way):

  • If you know your password is weak – maybe it’s too short or just a simple word – change it to something more complex and make sure you can remember it.  You might want to save it to a password manager or write it down in a secure place.
  • If you’ve used the same email and password combination for more than one account, you should really change the password on one of them.  (This is particularly important if you’ve got any financial details stored in either of the accounts.)
  • If you suspect your password has been compromised – change it as soon as you can.
  • If you share a password with other people (maybe as part of a club or society), you should change the password whenever someone leaves the group.

But apart from that, I wouldn’t worry about changing passwords.  I know there are people who’ll disagree with me, but there you go.

Cookie notices on websites – should I just “agree” or are they a problem?

I’m sure you all know the notices I’m talking about.  You go to a website and before you can do anything, a big box pops up telling you about their cookie policy.

Now, in theory, you should only get one of these messages the first time you go to the website.  The idea is that you carefully read the privacy policy (which I’m sure we all do… yep… every time…), make an informed decision and job’s a good’n.  It doesn’t seem to work in practice, though.  The same website will ask you over and over again.

In some cases you’ll be asked again because the policy has changed slightly since the last time you visited.  For other websites, it’ll just be a technical glitch – or it’ll have been long enough since your last visit that your web browser needs to ask you again.

So what I end up doing is just tutting in frustration and clicking or tapping “accept” without reading a word of it.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one.  If you actually read this stuff every time, you’d never get anything done!  Unintended consequences and all that.

It is what it is, though, so here are my top tips:

  • The first time you visit a website, have a read of the message – I wouldn’t bother with the full privacy policy, but feel free to check it if you like.  You sometimes get the option to accept just the essential cookies, or all cookies (including marketing ones).  
  • “Marketing”, “tracking” or “third-party” cookies aren’t harmful and they can’t store personal information – but they can be used to keep track of the websites you visit and links you click on.  That way, companies can advertise things to you that they think you might want to buy.  Personally, I say yes to all cookies because I’d rather get adverts for things I’m interested in than ones for gambling sites or fancy watches.
  • Then if you go to that website again and are asked to choose again, I wouldn’t bother re-reading it all – I’d just click or tap on whichever option you went for last time.  It’s possible that the policy will have changed in the meantime, but unlikely (and frankly, life’s too short).  Just make sure before you click or tap on anything that it is the cookie notice, and not something else entirely!

My biggest beef with the whole cookie notices thing is that it gets people into the habit of clicking first and asking questions later – which is just inviting some crook to try and take advantage.

But not for too much longer if Google get their way…

So the big privacy news at the moment is that Google want to get rid of all this nonsense by completely blocking third-party cookies in their web browser, Chrome.  They just wouldn’t work any more.

Mozilla’s “Firefox” and Apple’s “Safari” are already heading that way, so watch this space.  Tracking cookies might soon be a thing of the past…

Yours
Julie Wakeling

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