Google announces crackdown on irresponsible cookie popups

Google has announced that from January 2017, mobile web sites with intrusive popups and interstitials will be downgraded in search engine results.

As part of this move, Google has drawn a line between “responsible” and “irresponsible” cookie and legal popups. Their post implies that mobile sites using irresponsible cookie and legal popups will be penalised.

Google’s image of a responsible cookie consent window

We have all seen these questionable cookie consent methods used on desktop sites; I’ve included screen caps of a few here. (I don’t link to the sites using those strategies because it’s important to hate the game and not the player, despite some fans of this law believing just the opposite.) Bad consent mechanisms on mobiles are even worse.

In its post, Google says (emphasis mine):

…here are some examples of techniques that, used responsibly, would not be affected by the new signal:

  • Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification.

That clearly implies that techniques used irresponsibly, legal obligation or not, will not make the cut.

There is some political brinkmanship happening here.

The outcome of that consultation, and any ensuing update to the Directive, may be years away.

Google’s action here is a message that they’re not willing to wait for a committee to spend several years indulging themselves in a process.

Remember your Priority of Constituencies: In case of conflict, consider users over authors over implementors over specifiers over theoretical purity. As has been said from the start, a legal consent mechanism which prevents you from using a site at all serves neither users nor theory.

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.