Comment 8: The Good, The Bad, and The Cookie
The ABA Rules of Professional Conduct, Model Rule 1.1 Comment 8 requires, “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer shall keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” To that end, we have developed this regular series to develop the competence and skills necessary to responsibly choose and use the best technologies for your educational and professional lives. If you have any questions, concerns, or topics you would like to see discussed, please reach out to email@example.com.
This is the second of a two-part discussion about cookies that got slightly delayed. If you need a refresh on part one or if you missed it, which is totally fine (I understand), you can follow this link.
As we discussed last time in our pre-holiday chat, cookies are tiny bits of code that are stored by your web browser and serves good and bad functions on a website. A good cookie is one where a website remembers that you already logged in when you move from page-to-page. Who wants to have to login every time you go from a home page to an article? Bad cookies are things like third-party trackers, which collect and transmit data about your online session that is packaged and sold to businesses. Obviously, if you care about your privacy online than this is pretty awful.
But what can I do about this?
Also as we chatted about previously, you now have a lot of control over whether you want to accept cookies from a website or not. See how this is all coming full circle? Since we have some control over accepting cookies and if we care about our privacy at all (Nobody but me needs to know how many times a day I look at new sweaters online!), then we should learn some practical ways to protect ourselves.
Your browser and you.
First, most browsers provide ‘private’ or ‘incognito’ browsing modes. We could have a very long talk about how these modes work versus how we think they work. If only I had somewhere to discuss technology topics. Anyway, when it comes to cookies during private browsing what we need to know is that your browser will typically still store cookies, though the browser will delete them after you exit private browsing.
I know. This sounds like a lot of work.
There are other options, luckily. There are several great resources that explain cookies and show you how to adjust the privacy settings of your web browser. The link that I sneakily snuck into the last sentence has instruction for the most popular browsers. The benefit of doing this is that you get to “set it and forget it;” however, it possible that stricter privacy settings may make websites not function properly.
A website and you.
You can then choose to accept all cookies or to set your preferences. If our privacy-minded selves chose the latter, you will be taken to a new page that will explain the purpose of different cookies and let you turn some off. It’s pretty uncommon for a site to allow you to block them all.
Can software save us?
Sure, software can do almost anything. There are lots of resources to find out about privacy software and, while I usually don’t like to recommend specific software, I’m going to go ahead and break that rule. uBlock Origin is a great tool for blocking cookies, along with ads and other content. It’s opensource, free, and available as an extension or add-on for the most used browsers. uBlock is also great because it is user-friendly but also provides a huge amount of options and controls if you are looking for that.
A TLDR conclusion.
Electronic cookies are a lot like the cookies we eat:
Some are good.
Some are bad.
Life isn’t as good if you cut them out completely but you still want to moderate them.