Cookie consent box strangeness

Just recently I noticed that Google has changed the way the cookie consent reminder works. In the past it used to count down and then attempt to force you into the consent process but clearing the cookies reset this. Now there is no way past. I’ve not used Google for searches for some time now but Google Maps is handy sometimes. The iPhone app does not do this so presumably that has some other consent mechanism.

Dilbert, which I always visit daily has also started now to throw up a consent screen that one cannot get past. I wonder if these are both as a result of Schrems II. I have not checked what Google set but the Dilbert website sets 17 cookies while asking for consent to set cookies. As I use a cookie cruncher on the Mac that deletes cookies that I have not flagged as wanted every minute this is a minor issue and I always now clear cookies before visiting other websites to avoid them tracking me across sites.

On the iPhone I have all cookies blocked and so clicking on any ‘accept’ button makes no difference but does usually get past the screens. Google is interesting though because here, Google pops up the consent screen and it them immediately vanishes. I expect that will be ‘fixed’ soon though.

The trouble with web searches

These days finding information on the web is tedious at best. You almost need to go in knowing the answers in order to judge whether the information revealed by your search is even close to the mark.

For example, searching for “west yorkshire lockdown” on Duckduckgo finds a piece from the Yorkshire Post which immediately throws up a cookie screen and is, of course laden with adverts. I have no issue with a newspaper site having adverts, my issue is why isn’t there de facto information available via the government and if it is, why isn’t that ranked higher up? Search engines throw you to the wolves aka the advertising media for any information on just about any subject, certainly anything general in nature.

Another search, something I never expected to need to know, is to find out if one can drive through a locked down area where your start and end points are both outside said area. Again, lots of media sites, none of which come anywhere close to answering the question.

gov.uk does have information, but even here it’s not as clear as it might be. For example, I know there are current local lockdowns in effect including Bradford but gov.uk offers only “Find out what restrictions are in place if you live, work or travel in the north-west area and other affected areas.” I presume here that West Yorkshire is ‘other’ – why not spell it out to make it obvious? Are they charged per word like old telegrams were? The resultant page does list Bradford but does not mention Ilkley and yet I gathered from Facebook that it is included.  Back to Duckduckgo and a search for “ilkley lockdown” brings up a newspaper site which immediately throws up a cookie page with non-functional option links! Reloading that cured the issue and then deleting the 30 cookies it set even after I rejected them all gave some solace. Finally, that website tells me that anywhere that pays council tax to Bradford is included, specifically adding that Ilkley and Keighley are locked down. That nugget is missing from gov.uk. I did check Bradford council’s website but gave up when it shoved some survey popup at me.

Little wonder then that the masses only work on mis- or poor information from media websites whose sole aim is to push their version of reality and make money out of it. Perhaps they need to start writing this on the side of a big red bus rather than the lies of the past!

Do website owners ever look for errors?

Many websites nowadays have grown into enormously complex beasts with multiple bits and quite often bits that do not work. Other websites now make the journey into the site so horrendous, what with cookie popups and the occasional ‘please turn off your ad blocker’ popups that one cannot get past. I come across these almost daily when performing seemingly routine tasks or looking for information.

Where there is an error but one still needs to interact to gain something, perhaps modification to a service or to purchase something, you are then left with a struggle to find out what to do next. In some cases it is simple, go elsewhere. But in others, say, your energy provider while you are still in contract, one must persevere.

As an example, one energy provider makes the point that, in order to cancel a particular part of the service you can phone or go online.  They explain that should you phone you will be waiting in a queue so why not do it online? Oh but if so, you need to cancel before the renewal date whereas if you phone you can cancel up to 14 days after renewal. Ok, but the relevant section of the website simply never works and gives an error page saying you need to phone. The online chat also has a queueing system of course so no help there.

So, do website owners or whoever does their marketing actually look at errors? There is an issue here if they rely on external analytics providers such as Google Analytics because the analytics cookie may not be set at the point of error and may only be set at the actual generic error page. That may give a trail where someone clicks on a link on the main website which then errors, but not so if one follows the published direct URL. The web server log itself would be saviour here but I suspect that marketers neither know about them nor have access anyway.

Errors aside, I also wonder how many look into their analytics to see the number of people that failed to get any further into the site than the home page. This may be people like me that, when faced with an armoury of popups simply go elsewhere after killing all the cookies the site has set, usually without consent. Or again, people like me that persevere and choose ‘deny all’ to the cookie popup only to be presented with a popup asking me to kill my ad blocker. Again, I click away as must others. You would think that such information would be useful in order to shape the future of their website and maybe do away with the privacy invasive bits so they do not need to gain consent anyway… but I suspect that such statistics are ignored, or not available anyway.

Meanwhile, this rant has left me still needing to cancel a part of my energy contract and deciding whether to phone or wait and try online tomorrow, or apply a sledgehammer solution and cancel the direct debit with the bank and let them sort it out!

Hotel booking websites

We recently had a short break on another continent and used a well-known booking website in order to book a hotel. Our booking was based on the information provided on, or rather through that website. There was no other source of information on the hotel in question and it seemed to suit our needs according to what information was available to us. So we were a little surprised to find that the hotel was very basic and did not compare well to the advertisement. We have since taken this up with the booking website and the advertised facilities have been changed. Of course, the website itself disclaims everything under the sun, not their fault, etc.

This leads me though to the question of trust. The web has become a rather tenuous place, what with search results generally useless unless you are very clever with search terms. Results are filled with hopeless information that is generally light years from what you want. It seems, then, that hotel booking websites are going the same way. Rely as they may on their disclaimers, where there is no other source of information regarding a hotel one must ‘trust’ what is published on these portals and lay the blame for any unforeseen issues at their door. Or are we destined to only use them for an introduction and after this communicate directly with each hotel? If so, what use are they?

Someone simply looking to book a hotel and find the best deal is going to base their decisions on what is set out before them by the booking website. Surely these websites need to take a lot more care over their advertisements. If a hotel states that it has a continental breakfast one should not expect just a bit of toast. If it says the room has a coffee maker then a coffee maker should be in the room.

To my mind these companies cannot hide behind the same kind of ‘mere conduit’ ideas that protect Internet providers because they are themselves a service. You go to them so they can help you make a choice. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has already investigated the sector and carried out enforcement actions against some of these websites. Their angle is to do with competition so is not relevant in the case I outline here but I do wonder if the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) may take an interest. I have yet to fully digest the findings as it is not an area of law in which I have practiced. However, the law is not a mystery to me and this is one of those niggling issues that I tend not to drop…

Enquiry forms

If someone goes to the trouble of creating a web based enquiry form I consider it reasonable that said someone would also create some form of acknowledgement on submission, rather than just send the visitor back to the home page! Honestly, its really not hard.

Why do they design sites this way!

Another brain dead website, an estate agent this time. Filling in the contact-me form it pops up the usual Google ‘select all squares that may have had a bike in them last week’ thing. Only it’s hidden under the sliding design so you do not actually know. I found it, but the sliding imagery of their website covers most of the bottom three squares and the buttons, so no way to complete the task.

Good grief. I take it the user testing was somewhat less intensive than that which would have been accomplished merely by showing a screenshot to a brick…

Car manufacturer websites

I’ve been looking round several car manufacturers websites today as I am shopping for a new car. So off I went as you’d expect.

Apart from a variety of cookie notices many of which are confusing, though some are surprisingly good, the vast array of marketing methods used and abused is astonishing. I suppose this should not come as a surprise but the following is a few of the worst:

  • Link to prices is circular and you never get near a price
  • Several pages in and you find the car you came to see is not yet available
  • A car you know to be on sale does not appear anywhere on the manufactures website
  • Link to specifications page gives a 404 error (seriously?!)

I may well add to the list!

Now there are some very good and well thought out sites there – I’m not naming any or shaming any here – but for companies that make a bazillion dollars a year you’d think they could at least get this right! I mean, it’s 2019, not 1993 (ah, my first website, way back in 1993…)


Google’s hopeless reCaptcha strikes again!

Good grief. The infernal recaptcha is used on the car insurance amendment form of a well known insurer. I had to use this today as it is a lot easier than the phone. SEVEN screens of asking me to click every road sign and every store front, then the form would not finish, simply saying ‘field required’ – all were filled in correctly. No way back so I reloaded and started that part of the form over, another SEVEN screens, this time road signs and busses. Finally I got through. So FOURTEEN of these infuriating Google screens later I got to the end of the form. Actually, phoning would be easier, let’s give up on these web forms, as the use of this maddening junk makes it wholly useless now.

Oh yes and still if I dare click for the audio version it just tells me I have clearly mounted an automated attack and blocks all further requests. Clearing all my cookies sorted that one but the voices are generally unintelligible, so little help there.

Again with the photo ID

I need to collect some building supplies. These were ordered online ‘click and collect’, the emails and associated text comes to my phone, and yet I am told I need to bring photographic ID with me. I wonder if they will accept a photo of my passport photo on my phone… if there’s no queue I may well try that out!

Ok I can see the point, after all I already paid for the supplies and I would be really cross if someone faked my name and grabbed them.

Maybe if there was some government-backed ID other than a passport that can prove I am me… oh, wait.

More on Google’s reCaptcha

Ok so now this is getting annoying. Chasing these images round a screen and waiting for new ones to slowly fade in has reached the point now that I no longer engage and will email every website that I need information from to tell them they need to provide it some other way that does not require this ridiculous interaction.

To make matters worse, today I clicked the little headphone icon. Immediately a popup appeared whinging that my network is making automated queries (so, two then, and manual) and I can get no further. Switching to 4G got past that and the audio clip did then work, and is actually a whole lot easier than chasing squares.