Strictly Necessary Cookies: What Are They & Why Do They Matter?

Table of Contents

Updated April 14, 2024

Strictly necessary cookies play an integral role in the digital experience, yet their purpose and functionality remain a mystery to many businesses and consumers.

This article aims to demystify the concept of strictly necessary cookies, explore their importance, and shed light on their pivotal role in the complex world of data analytics.

Let’s dive right in.

Key Takeaways

  • Strictly necessary cookies are essential for the basic functioning of a website, ensuring seamless consumer experience and data security.
  • Other types of cookies, such as performance, functional, and targeting cookies, each serve specific roles in enhancing website performance, personalizing consumer experience, and supporting business strategies.
  • Cookie consent exemptions extend beyond strictly necessary cookies, including session cookies, cookies used for filled-out forms, security cookies, accessibility cookies, and load-balancing cookies.

What Are Strictly Necessary Cookies?

Alana Gibson, Chief Operating Officer at DGR Legal, says:

“Strictly necessary cookies are essential for website functionality, such as session management. They are exempt from consent requirements because they don’t track user behavior for analytics or advertising.”

These cookies are deployed on a consumer’s device when they visit a website, ensuring that the site functions correctly and providing a seamless browsing experience.

These cookies perform crucial functions such as remembering items in a shopping cart, maintaining consumer login sessions, ensuring site security, and preserving consumer settings throughout a browsing session.

As they don’t collect data for marketing or tracking, they are fundamental for site operation and privacy protection. Here are some examples of what strictly necessary cookies (also known as essential cookies) do:

  • Authentication: These cookies are essential for verifying consumer identities and providing secure account access.
  • Session Management: They maintain consumers’ browsing activities in a single session, providing a consistent and seamless experience.
  • Security: They help protect the site and consumers from malicious activities by detecting irregularities and enforcing security measures.
  • Consumer Interface Preferences: These cookies remember a consumer’s choices, such as language or font size, to provide a personalized browsing experience.

It’s important to note that strictly necessary cookies are exempt from the cookie consent management requirements under General Data Protection Regulation principles due to their essential nature. This means that businesses do not need explicit consumer consent to deploy these cookies. 

5 Concerns About Strictly Necessary Cookies

There are several concerns surrounding strictly necessary cookies and first-party cookies that you might want to consider:

  1. Privacy Regulations: Increasingly stringent privacy regulations, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US, continue to evolve. These regulations often affect how cookies, even those deemed strictly necessary, must be handled. Businesses need to ensure they are compliant with these regulations to avoid hefty fines.
  2. User Consent and Transparency: Even though strictly necessary cookies do not require user consent, transparency about their use is still required. Users are becoming more aware and concerned about their online privacy. Mismanagement or lack of transparency regarding cookie usage, even if it’s first-party and strictly necessary, could lead to trust issues with users.
  3. Technological Changes: The technology landscape is constantly changing. For instance, major browsers like Google Chrome are phasing out support for third-party cookies, which can indirectly impact how first-party cookies are perceived and managed. There’s also a growing use of privacy-focused browsers and extensions that can restrict even first-party cookies, which could impact website functionality and analytics.
  4. Security Risks: Strictly necessary cookies, like those used for session management in online banking or shopping carts in e-commerce, can be a target for cyber attacks. Techniques like session hijacking or man-in-the-middle attacks can exploit cookies if they are not properly secured (e.g., through flags like HttpOnly and Secure).

Adaptation to New Standards: As new standards and technologies emerge, businesses must continuously adapt their cookie management practices. This includes updates in coding practices, adopting newer security measures, and possibly redesigning systems to be less reliant on cookies.

Are Strictly Necessary Cookies Exempt from Cookie Consent?

Strictly necessary cookies are exempt from the standard cookie consent requirements.

According to GDPR and Eprivacy Directive principles, these cookies are deemed vital for a website’s basic functionality and consumer experience. This exemption stems from the understanding that without these cookies, many websites simply wouldn’t function as expected.

To elaborate, strictly necessary cookies don’t track consumers’ activities for marketing purposes, nor do they gather any personal data unless it is essential for functionality.

For instance, a strictly necessary cookie might remember a consumer’s location to ensure that the website appears in the correct language, or it might remember the items in a consumer’s shopping cart during a single session.

Even though these cookies are exempt from the consent requirement, it’s important for businesses to maintain transparency about their cookie usage as part of their data compliance solutions. Hence, the use of strictly necessary cookies should still be outlined in the site’s cookies policy and cookie declaration.

If a website uses cookies that are not entirely categorized as strictly necessary, then you must ensure you have a cookie banner and obtain user consent.

Such practices not only promote trust amongst consumers but also help businesses stay on the right side of GDPR and outsource compliance responsibilities effectively.

What Are Other Types of Cookies?

While strictly necessary cookies are vital for a website’s basic functionality, they’re not the only type of cookies employed in the digital world.

Other categories of cookies, including performance cookies, functional cookies, and targeting or advertising cookies, play their respective roles in enhancing consumer experience and aiding in business strategies.

Here’s a run-through of each type of cookie:

Performance Cookies

Performance cookies, sometimes referred to as analytics cookies, gather information about how consumers interact with a website.

They track data like page visits, dwell time, and error messages, which businesses can analyze to improve site performance and consumer experience. Notably, performance cookies like Google Analytics do not collect information that identifies a consumer personally.

Functional Cookies

Functional cookies remember the choices a consumer makes on a website to provide a more personalized and enhanced browsing experience. Unlike strictly necessary cookies, they are not essential for a website’s operation but significantly improve the consumer experience.

These cookies can remember preferences such as language, region, username, and changes a consumer has made to text size, fonts, and other customizable site elements.

Targeting or Advertising Cookies

Targeting or advertising cookies are used to deliver adverts more relevant to the consumer and their interests. They can remember that a consumer has visited a website, share this information with other businesses like advertisers, and limit the number of times a consumer sees an ad.

Although they change the way a website behaves or looks to create personalized content and advertising, they can be considered intrusive from a privacy standpoint, hence requiring explicit consumer consent.

What Are Other Cookie Consent Exemptions?

Cookie consent exemptions aren’t solely confined to strictly necessary cookies. There are other specific scenarios where cookies can be exempt from the need for explicit consumer consent.

These exemptions are designed to ensure that essential website functionality is maintained while still safeguarding consumer privacy. The following are notable exemptions:

Session Cookies

Similar to strictly necessary cookies, session cookies are temporary cookies that are erased when the consumer closes their web browser. The law permits these cookies because they are required to remember the consumer’s actions during a browser session.

They are crucial for various forms of web applications to function correctly. Session cookies, essential for various web applications, are exempt from consent as they only last as long as the browser session.

Cookies Used for Filled-out Forms

If a consumer fills out a form on a website, cookies can be used without consent to remember the information the consumer has entered. This exemption applies as long as the cookie is deleted when the consumer leaves the site or shortly after. Cookies used for filled-out forms can operate without consent, provided they are deleted after the consumer leaves the site or shortly thereafter.

Security Cookies

Security cookies that help ensure data security can also be exempt from the consent requirement. These cookies help detect repeated failed login attempts or protect consumer data from unauthorized parties. Security cookies, instrumental in maintaining data security and preventing unauthorized access, are also exempt from consumer consent.

Cookies Used for Accessibility

Cookies that help to improve the accessibility of a website are also typically exempt from consent. For example, a cookie might be used to increase the font size for visually impaired consumers or to adjust contrast for them with color blindness. Cookies aimed at enhancing website accessibility for differently-abled consumers do not require consent.

Load Balancing Cookies

In the context of large-scale websites and applications, load-balancing cookies are often exempted. These cookies are used to distribute the processing and functionality of a website across multiple servers, enhancing site performance and consumer experience.

Load balancing cookies, vital for maintaining website performance and managing server load, are also exempt from consumer consent.

How do Strictly Necessary Cookies Affect Your Website?

Strictly necessary cookies have a substantial impact on the performance and functionality of a website.

Their primary role is to make a website usable by enabling basic functions such as page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, a website might not function properly or provide essential services.

For instance, a strictly necessary cookie might retain items in a consumer’s shopping cart as they navigate different pages on an e-commerce website.

Without this cookie, the consumer would need to re-add items to their cart each time they visit a new page. Similarly, these cookies can remember other consumer preferences like language settings, maintaining a consistent and user-friendly experience throughout a browsing session.

Furthermore, strictly necessary cookies play a crucial role in securing consumer data. They can manage and protect secure consumer sessions, providing robust data security and thus contributing to corporate compliance.

By enabling basic functionalities and securing consumer data, strictly necessary cookies ensure the smooth operation of a website and contribute to a user-friendly and secure browsing experience.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What happens if my website doesn’t use strictly necessary cookies?

If your website doesn’t use strictly necessary cookies, it may result in diminished functionality.

Consumers might face difficulties in navigating your website or using its basic features, such as staying logged in or retaining items in a shopping cart. This could significantly hamper consumer experience and might even lead to the loss of potential consumers.

Learn more about cookie consent!

Do strictly necessary cookies pose any privacy concerns?

Strictly necessary cookies do not generally pose privacy concerns as they do not collect personal data for tracking or marketing purposes.

Their main purpose is to ensure the smooth functioning of the website and enhance the consumer experience. However, it’s always important to disclose their usage in your website’s privacy policy for full transparency.

Explore our data compliance services!

Can consumers disable strictly necessary cookies?

Consumers with a preference for no cookies can disable cookies through their browser settings. However, disabling strictly necessary cookies can affect the website’s functionality and consumer experience, as these cookies enable essential site features. Hence, it’s generally recommended to keep them enabled.

Learn how to manage cookies here.

How can I ensure that my website’s use of strictly necessary cookies is compliant with data protection regulations?

Ensuring compliance with data protection regulations involves transparency and clear communication with your consumers. Although strictly necessary cookies don’t require consumer consent, it’s best practice to disclose their use in your website’s privacy policy.

For more information on how to achieve data compliance, check out our guide on data compliance.

What is the difference between functional and strictly necessary cookies?

Strictly necessary cookies must be present for a website to provide basic functions and services. They include those required to allow registered users to authenticate and perform account-related functionalities, as well as save the information about user decisions that customize end-user experience, such as language or region selection, etc.

While strictly necessary cookies are indispensable for operating the site smoothly, functional ones enhance the performance of your website by offering improved functionality and personalization – like remembering preferences you set during previous visits (e.g., if a user selects their preferred layout), providing live chat support, or social sharing options.

Learn what first party cookies are in this article.

Are strictly necessary cookies always active?

Yes, strictly necessary cookies are always active because they enable core functionality such as user logins and account management. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

Find out what a third party cookie is right here.

How Can Captain Compliance Help You?

Our team at Captain Compliance is your trustworthy companion, offering comprehensive data compliance solutions to guide you through the complexities of cookie use and GDPR.

Ensure compliance and consumer trust. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation, and let us help you navigate your compliance journey effectively and efficiently. Act now and turn the complexities of compliance into a stepping stone for sustainable business growth. 

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