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Bigger boys made me do it: Why copying "leaders" is sometimes a bad idea

If you've worked for any serious amount of time in eCommerce or digital marketing, you'll have come across a client who wants to copy functionality or design from another company. They probably also think it's easy to do this.

(True story, I once had a customer push me aside to grab my laptop so he could "show me this copy and paste thing". This numbskull legitimately thought that if he copied a button from Amazon and pasted it into a Word doc he sent me, I could then paste it into his site and the functionality would magically follow it.)

Anyway, setting aside The Wizard of Copy and Paste, there's still a lot of "let's look at what X are doing about Y", especially when it comes to legislation and regulation. Not sure how best to interpret EU Cookie Law or GDPR? Well, why not just copy what Google's doing? I mean, those guys must have it right... right?

Well, as I've had the pain of pointing out on many an occasion, Google doesn't always play by the rules. Case in point - Google's super confusing approach to cookies.

I've never liked Google's approach to cookies, especially their semi-implied assumption that allowing their cookies on their website means I also want to allow them in other places using Google services. I may not mind Google knowing about me but I might have a problem with one of the sites I visit using that same permission and assuming that it's safe to drop Google Analytics on me without additional consent.

Seems obvious, and anything over thirty nanoseconds checking the ICO's very clear guidelines would show that this approach is wrong, but I've come across more than a few developers who think this is OK "because that's what Google do".

Wake up call. Big tech usually aren't following the rules. In fact, most of the time, big tech companies (including Google) are why new rules are being made.

If you're looking for evidence of this, look no further than the latest fine issued to Google by the EU and the subsequent changes to how Google notifications regarding cookies...

We've all been there - you land on a website and the button to "Accept All" cookies is nice and clear and big and bold. Meanwhile, the button to reject cookies is as well concealed as the plans to demolish Arthur Dent's house in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (by which I mean they were in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard").

And that's OK right? Because, you know, that's what Google does... right?

Nope. After a bruising court battle and yet another large finge. Google have been told that their cookie notification message must make the option to reject cookies just as clear and obvious and accessible as the option to accept them and that their current labyrthine implementation was in violation of current EU laws. Consequently, as announced in this blog post, Google are rolling out an innovate new approach to cookie notifications where it's just as easy to say "no" as it is to say "yes".

Here's Google's innovative new look. It has two buttons.

What it means for all of us

Hopefully this clear directive from the EU, and Google's gruding capitulation to it, will drive forward change in the way cookie notifications are designed and herald the end of increasingly complex user interfaces that do everything they can to obfuscate the process and frustrate users into simply clicking "Accept All".

What it means for your website

If you're a website builder of any stripe, take this as a clear message that you can't rely on simply emulating the actions of "bigger boys" instead of reading and understanding relevant legislation for yourself. More importantly, it is vital when looking at regulations that you try to absorb the "spirit" of the legistation/regulation as well as the letter of it.

Just because you can find a loophole, doesn't mean you have to force yourself (or your client) through it.

Has any visitor to a website ever really thought "Wow, that's clever!" when they are forced to navigate an annoying complex cookie notification? Or do they think, "Wow, that's so annoying" or "Wow, that's deliberately complicated, how stupid do they think I am."

Frustrating your user is never a good idea. Trying to be outsmart them is even worse.

Find out more: https://www.theverge.com/2022/4/21/23035289/google-reject-all-cookie-button-eu-privacy-data-laws

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