Let’s talk about Cookies
Unfortunately, we’re not going to be talking about delicious edible kind of cookies, we’re going to be talking about the non-edible, but still important Google Analytics Cookies.
What is a Cookie? This may be the first question some of you may have. So let’s bring everyone up to speed!! A cookie is a small piece of information that is stored on your browser, like Google Chrome or Firefox. While we are going to be talking about Google Analytics Cookies, it is important to note that Cookies are site-specific, that is to say, you might have the same cookie on your browser for 100 different sites.
So how are cookies created? When you visit a website, the website you’re on searches your browser for a cookie and asks “Has this user been here before, and if so, when?”. If you have, it will update the cookie with information about your latest visit. If it’s your first time on the site, it’ll generate a new cookie to show you have visited the site.
So what is measured by Google Analytics? Google Analytics measures a host of information. Some of the important information it collects is:
- Has this user been here before? If so, when?
- What page(s) has the user visited?
- How long has the user been on the site?
- What device has the user visited the site with?
- What browser has the user visited the site with?
- What city is the user in?
- How did the user get to the site? Did the user come via a campaign?
- How many times has the user been here before?
- How long did it take for the page to load for the user?
- What network was the user on when visiting the site?
- What did the user engage with while on the site?
What you can see from the above data is that nothing collected can identify or pinpoint a user, but what it can do is give the owner of a website essential information around how people use their website.
A high-level use case for this data would be for an eCommerce shop to understand how many clicks users make before making a purchase. The owner of the online shop can then redesign the site to make it more user-friendly.
What about Cookies and GDPR?
Cookies are mentioned once in the 88 pages long regulation. However, those few lines have a significant impact on the compliance of cookies:
(30): “Natural persons may be associated with online identifiers […] such as internet protocol addresses, cookie identifiers or other identifiers […]. This may leave traces which, in particular when combined with unique identifiers and other information received by the servers, may be used to create profiles of the natural persons and identify them.”
In other words: when cookies can identify an individual, it is considered personal data.
We will have another blog post dedicated to GDPR and cookies, and what you need to do to be compliant. For now, it’s important you understand what cookies are, and some of the cookies which are used every day, and some brief information on each.
APPENDIX 1: Definition of Active Cookies
The following is a definition of the active cookies
1P_JAR // Google Analytics // 1 Week
Google uses these cookies, based on recent searches and interactions, to customise ads on Google websites.
CONSENT // Google Analytics // 1 Year
These cookies are used to collect information about how visitors use our site. We use the information to compile reports and to help us improve the site. The cookies collect information in an anonymous form, including the number of visitors to the site, where visitors have come to the site from and the pages they visited.
NID // Google Analytics // 1 Week
These cookies are used by Google to store user preferences and information when viewing pages with Google maps on them.
__utma // Google Analytics // 1 Week
Used to distinguish visitors and pages visited. Records a unique ID, the date and time of the first visit, time of current visit and the total number of visits made.
__utmb // Google Analytics // 1 Week
__utmb takes a timestamp of the exact moment in time when a visitor enters a site. It is used to determine new sessions or visits. Stores the number of page views in the current visit and start time of visit.
__utmc // Google Analytics // 1 Week
__utmb takes a timestamp of the exact moment in time when a visitor enters a site, while __utmc takes a timestamp of the exact moment in time when a visitor leaves a site. __utmb expires at the end of the session. __utmc waits 30 minutes, and then it expires. __utmc has no way of knowing when a user closes their browser or leaves a website, so it waits 30 minutes for another pageview to happen, and if it doesn’t, it expires.
__utmt // Google Analytics // 1 Week
Used to throttle request rate and how much data is collected over a given period of time.
__utmz // Google Analytics // 1 Week
This cookie is how Google Analytics knows to whom and to what source/ medium/keyword to assign the credit for a Goal Conversion. It records the site you may have linked to our page from. Only records data if you clicked on a link to our site from a different website.
_ga // Google Analytics // 1 Week
Google Analytics – Keeps track of site usage and anonymous user information.
_gat // Google Analytics // 1 Week
Used to throttle request rate and how much data is collected over a given period of time
_gid // Google Analytics // 1 Week
Google uses these cookies to distinguish users.