How many times have you seen the word ‘cookie’ in relation to computers, websites and the internet and just don’t have a clue what it means – in fact, don’t even care?
It’s just one of those terms which us technophobes skim over and ignore, accepting that it’s something technical and we don’t need to think about.
Cookies are not only lovely biscuits which are often horribly addictive – they are also pieces of code which attach themselves to your computer when you click on certain websites. I think that’s a good way to describe it. Please feel free to comment and provide a better description.
These cookies can gather data about you, how you navigate a website, where your interests lie – all of which is useful data for a company which is trying to effectively market to consumers or where a company or individual wants to know great detail about the amount of traffic coming to their site.
A new EU law comes into force on January 1 which means all websites using cookies in this way in Europe MUST give a warning about their use PRIOR TO THE WEBSITE LOADING. If you don’t have this facility, you will be breaking the law and you risk a fine.
Think of it this way. When you use your mobile to ring an 08000 number or a similar number, you often get that message which says ‘if you continue with this call, it will cost 7p a minute so hang up if you don’t want to pay’ etc. I always hang up and switch to a landline.
This is a similar warning – which must be visually displayed before cookies are downloaded, which happens very quickly once you’ve clicked on a website of interest. The aim is to provide further safeguards around privacy on the web.
This law actually came into force in other European countries in May but the UK government delayed it here because it felt that it had not been widely publicised. I think the Government was right in that assumption. For most of us, we’ve never even heard of this EU cookie law and potentially we’re all walking into a trap.
But we can offer a solution which will not cost loadsa money. Is this a bit of shameless marketing? Yes, it is – let’s be upfront. One of our clients, Sarah Arrow, founder of Birds On The Blog, has designed a legal WordPress plug-in to do the job for you.
The key issue is that the message MUST BE DISPLAYED before a website loads – so be aware of products which give a warning too late – apparently that’s the difficult bit for technical designers to get right.
We don’t often recommend something unless it’s something we truly think is useful. This new EU law (which the UK government could in the fullness of time and when it’s got its head round more pressing matters, find a way around), has the potential to cost small business people a lot of money.
Sarah has a cheaper solution which gets around this problem, and we are more than happy to help her publicise it . A WordPress plug-in – for details visit the pithily titled website (!) www.eucookielawwpplugin.co.uk
when is it right to conduct secret recording?
Phone hacking – it’s inevitable that I need to talk about this, being a journalist.
Have I ever hacked anyone’s phone? No.
Have I ever been aware of any other journalist doing so? No.
Would I do it? No, it’s illegal.
Would I even know how to do it? No.
Could I get someone to do it on my behalf ? Probably.
The whole News of the World mess is gradually revealing the lengths some will go to to get that so-called big story and earn the big bucks. This kind of journalism has never interested me. I can’t be bothered with the ‘who’s sleeping with you’ stories.
I should say that I have worked, and still do, work on local newspapers and publications.
No, I’ve never worked on a national newspaper. Is it a different animal to a local newspaper? In some respects, yes. Those who work on those newspapers certainly believe so.
Did the editor at the time know all of this was happening? Maybe.
Should she/he take the rap? Yes.
That’s the responsibility one takes when one takes that job on, enjoying the rather large salary at the same time.
Editors fall into two categories – one who is remote and who’s office may be floors away from the newsroom and one who is hands-on and who lives in the newsroom. Both behaviours have merits – being distant doesn’t necessarily mean they are not savvy about what’s going on.
Having worked in a newsroom, this is how it usually goes. At least once a day, there’ll be a news conference where the day’s or week’s stories will be discussed. Not all reporters will attend this meeting.
Usually the editor, news editor, deputy news editor and maybe a chief reporter. So if an editor says to his/her news editor ‘what’s on today/tomorrow?” that person will answer. An editor might then say ‘where did that story come from?’ and a news editor might answer ‘oh, from reliable sources’. What do you say then as an editor?
Do you trust your senior team? Or do you question them further? Where does trust begin and end in the workplace?
What I’m saying is that it’s possible that an editor didn’t know what was going on and didn’t spot the signs that something was fishy. However that’s not the point. The point is that this is where the buck stops. Blame who you like, as the editor you should take the hit.
If you’re wondering what rules newspaper journalists adhere to – well, look at our ‘We Love’ section and you’ll find out.
However in broadcast journalism it’s different – not only do these journalists have to obey the law, they also have to follow the Ofcom Code of Conduct and that absolutely prohibits phone hacking, or even any kind of secret recording which is known as ‘fishing’ – recording stuff just on the off-chance that you’ll come across a good story.
I’ve secretly recorded material, both sound and pictures, and I’ve never regretted doing it.
As a journalist who’s been involved in many investigative projects, it’s sometimes necessary.
However, in television, if you want to secretly record, say, a telephone conversation, you have to fulfil strict criteria to get permission to do so.
That process involves outlining a case which must be put before a lawyer and the most senior executive in the building at the time.
You should not randomly record any telephone conversation you want with the intention of putting it on air.
You need to persuade the lawyer and executive that there is a high chance that by doing so you’ll get information that you couldn’t get in any other way.
If you’ve got that permission and you go ahead with the secret recording, you then have to go through a further process to use that material. You have to show that the material obtained ‘adds’ something to the film/broadcast that you wouldn’t have got by being upfront.
I have got permission for the former and then not been able to use the material on air – it’s never seen the light of day. So the case was made to record, but what was recorded on the day, didn’t fulfil expectation and therefore couldn’t be used.
But I accept the checks and balances that restrict those of us who work in radio and television.
I know how damaging these things can be if you get it wrong, so you must do all that you can to get it right, tell the truth and expose wrongdoing – when in the public interest.
Sometimes that kind of journalism exposes real problems which need to be revealed – think Panorama and the home for vulnerable adults in South Gloucestershire. Think of the whole pthalidamide story years ago.
Good and important things can be exposed by excellent journalism.
It bears no relation to anything that’s being revealed at the moment about the practices by certain individuals associated with News of the World.