Survey says: this EU Cookie Law survey is dire.

I participate in the YouGov survey programme which asks me to take a handful of surveys a week on various topics; in exchange, I receive a few pounds every now and then for the family savings fund. Companies and organisations place surveys through YouGov, which means that the person taking the survey does not know who placed the survey. Occasionally, as with political party questions, the placing organisation is obvious. Other times, while the identity is not obvious, the bias and ulterior motives of the survey writers are.

This morning’s survey questions were about the EU Cookie Law. And they were very poor questions indeed.

Tellingly, the survey never mentioned the words “cookie” or “cookie law”, choosing instead to describe the exact functions which cookies perform.

This question asked whether you opt in or opt out of cookie law notices. The third option was was “not applicable – I don’t recall being given such an option before.” The survey becomes meaningless from this question onwards because the writers did not include an option for what is actually happening with cookie law notices: ignore the permission request and carry on. This, after all, is permissible under V3 of the UK’s cookie law guidance.

This loaded trick question used pop-up advertisements in place of cookie law notices to elicit an emotional response. Again, it did not include an option for the actual user experience when confronted with a repetitive pop-up: just close the bloody window or ignore it. The question is further flawed because clicking off a pop-up advertisement window is an action which has no consequences. Clicking a window to opt-out of cookies has serious consequences. A is not B. For that matter, I would like to ask the survey writers who on earth gets on the phone to complain to a customer service hotline over a pop-up window?

Here the survey segues into a question about Do Not Track (DNT) settings in browsers. While DNT at this stage has no official connection to the UK’s implementation of the cookie law, I interpret this question as another attempt to elicit an emotive response which can be (mis)interpreted as a technological preference. The person taking the survey is being tricked into offering a vote of confidence for or against the functions which cookies perform, as opposed to “cookies”: the scapegoat strings of code for whom the law was drafted.

While I don’t expect YouGov to respond to my request to tell me who placed this survey, I do expect you to spot the flaws and biases within the survey regardless of which side of the cookie law debate you are on. Whoever wrote these questions had an ulterior motive which meant they were unwilling to just come out and say “cookies” or “cookie law” or “cookie notices”, couching it instead in other language. Some people might find that non-technical explanation helpful; others might feel that they are being treated like children who are too stupid to understand technical concepts. The survey, like the cookie law itself, speaks from a purely theoretical perspective and does not reflect how the law plays out in the real world, which as good as renders the survey results invalid: ignoring a pop-up window is not an explicit opt-out. And worst of all, the survey used manipulative trickery to elicit emotive responses about one issue by asking questions about another.

What does that say about the cookie law?

About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.

One thought on “Survey says: this EU Cookie Law survey is dire.

  1. Be very interesting to see how this gets interpreted when results are published – assuming they are. I would have said it was someone like the IAB or other digital advertising interest organisation.

    That last one really looks like an attempt to get Microsoft to change their mind about IE10

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