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May 5, 2008

NEWS: Internet Says: 'Me Want Cookie'


Information Age
Internet Says: 'Me Want Cookie'

May 5, 2008; Page A13

The last time cookies became a matter of public debate was when the "Sesame Street" character Cookie Monster was accused of encouraging poor eating habits among toddlers. Today's controversial cookies are the small text files that track where people go online. Web sites do a poor job of explaining how and why this information is used, even as details about our lives are increasingly knowable online. Risks to privacy make this a race between smarter self-regulation on the Web and threatened new regulation by the Federal Trade Commission.

Most privacy advocates understand that advertising pays for the otherwise free Web, but worry that cookies can be used for more than matching advertising to individual interests. Some want a "do not track" approach on the Web, similar to the "do not call" rules that block unwanted marketing phone calls. This sounds attractive but could undercut much of the marketing power of the Web.

['Me Want 'Cookie']
M.E. Cohen

Even those of us who are enthusiastic about using the Web for what it does best, including access to highly customized information, agree there's something potentially creepy about cookies. How are personal data used? Are our names, addresses and financial and health records really secret? Is anonymity permanent? These questions come just as what technology can do is changing our expectations about what information remains personal. We worry about cookies despite many of us voluntarily becoming open books via sites like MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, which are designed to share personal information that until recently would have been considered confidential...

Ed: Perceived privacy is an issue. However, without cookies, advanced features for the vast majority of sites will fail. This includes AdSense, Adwords, and Feedburner administration. Thus, it makes no sense to block cookies, 100%. 

The default for Safari from Apple blocks third-party cookies. This includes AdSense and all AdNets. Firefox and IE 6/7 have the same option - but users need to select this option. Safari is available on Mac, iPhone, iPod, and PCs. 

Users can delete cookies on browser exit or during periodic clean-up. If 10% of users select these cookie blocking options, the over-stated monthly unique user (UU) count could be 100%+ too high for all web sites.

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