There are many pros and cons to using cookies. Some sites use them for security, to make sure that a user is who they say they are. Some sites have also been accused of using cookies to track users on the web, in a way which may invade a user’s privacy.
Some sites have introductory pages, which are displayed for first time users, so that the user understands what the site is about. However, it would be frustrating if every time a visitor goes to a site they have to click through all the introductions. Cookies provide a way around this.
After a user has been through the introductory pages, a site can send a cookie to the computer that says that the user has been there. The next time the user arrives at the page, the site knows that they have been through the introduction, and so it can just pass them on to the site directly. This displays how cookies can be useful for website developers and users alike.
For instance, Yahoo! uses and optional cookie so that when a user who goes to the site often visits the site, it “remembers” who they are, and gets the cookie information to log them in and display their own customized page. This saves the user a little bit of time and effort, and makes the site a more pleasant experience.
There are, however, many security concerns associated with cookies. One of the shortfalls of cookies is that they are dependent on the computer on which they are placed. Just because that computer is visiting a site again, doesn’t mean it is the same user. This means that, in theory, if one uses a computer to visit a site which uses a cookie to identify him or her, and then he or she walks away from that computer and someone else visits the same site, they could get information that is actually meant for the original user.
Another problem is one of privacy. Many users like the internet for its anonymity. The idea that an individual or organization could actually be tracking where they are going and what sitesthey are visiting really bothers some users. The fact that some of this tracking information could be used for the purpose of making money, by targeting advertising for instance, also concerns some users. There have also been incidents where government websites are found to be using cookies. Although these cookies may not be used to track visitors, the fact that the government could use this method to track users, concerns many privacy activists.
Cookie security is a large problem. The concern is that many security holes have been found in different with browsers. Some of these holes were so serious that they allowed malicious webmasters to gain access to users’ email, different passwords, and credit card information. The worry is that, even though past holes have been patched, there could be more holes out there.
Some also have concerns about the whole system of cookies in the first place. The general though is that cookies could become accessible to a website which did not issue them. This would mean, in theory, that a malicious web site designer would be able to collect not only the information which is in the cookie he gives the user, but also the information in all of the cookies on the user’s computer. While this may only be theory, it is still very worrisome to many privacy advocates.
Another privacy concern is the fact that some companies have figured out ways to connect the anonymous clicks of a user to actual personal information which they have collected. The legality of this kind of action is still being debated to date. In the case of DoubleClick, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint against them alleging that they are infringing on a user’s right to privacy because of their plans to match up identification numbers found in cookies with names and personal information of the user.
It is not just advertisers that worry privacy activists, but also researchers. The information in and gathered from cookies may be used to do research on controversial issues such as abortion and gun control. Information could be used to gather information which will be used by special interest groups without the knowledge of the user.
What are Cookies used for?.
There are different types of cookies. There are cookies that last until you quit your web browser. These cookies are discarded once you quit your browser. Another type of cookies is what is called a persistent cookie. These persistent cookies have a “sell by” date on it. What this means is that these cookies last for a specified amount of time and then will be destroyed after the given date. The main difference between the two is the temporal difference – persistent cookies generally last longer than regular cookies.
The information in cookies can tell a lot about a user’s preferences and habits on the Internet. Cookies can store information that contains things spanning from what kind of products you buy, to how many times you have visited a particular web site. For example, a user can visit www.weather.com and put in his/her country’s zip code to get the weather daily. Later on in the week, that user can go to the site, and it will automatically take the user to his/her country’s weather without putting in his or her zip code.
With cookies being able to store bits of information about a user’s preferences, people can get worried and think that cookies can store all types of information like passwords and credit card numbers. People think that cookies are programs. In fact, cookies are not programs that can be turned on and off to look into the software of a computer and
extract information. Because of this, a user’s information is relatively safe, considering that hackers do not attack the computer.
Cookies are useful means for tailoring a website for custom use by any individual. This is especially useful in advertising online. Cookies are small files which act as a remembrance system for websites since each visitation session to the website is not stored in a solid state. Each connection to a website is unique and the servers that run the websites cannot distinguish one visitor from another without a means to log and track users. “Essentially, cookies make use of user-specific information transmitted by the Web server onto the user’s computer so that the information might be available for later access by itself or other servers.” Often, websites do not have the capacity to store individualized information about every user that visits the site.
This would take up a tremendous amount of disk storage, money and resources depending on how much information is stored in the cookie. Instead, what a website will do is “watch” as you browse within the site and store your preferences within a small file on your computer called a “cookie.” Storing it on your computer in this format is a more efficient way of remembering users since there is only one individual file of a relatively small size containing their personal information.
The type of information stored in a cookie is controlled by each website that generates the cookie stored on your computer. Some websites would like to track a visitor and see which kinds of products he or she dislikes. This allows the websites to transform the website into a more euphoric place for the visitor. “To express this in more familiar terms, when you enter a store for the first time, a professional salesperson will greet you, ask your name, and offer to help you. When you return to the store, that same professional will remember your name, and will recall what you purchased, what you liked and didn’t like, and will use that information to make your subsequent visits more enjoyable. Cookies allow web developers to create the same environment in a web application.”
Another way, in which cookies are used in websites, is to gather information from your perusing of the various websites without user knowledge. Usually, cookies are left on a computer without informing the user that personal information may be stored there. Websites then use these cookies to customize the banner advertisements, that are
prevalent on many websites today, to your particular interests. This is done in hopes of generating business for the advertiser or revenue for the website.
website, but may in fact find a cookie on their computer that was placed there by one of DoubleClick’s partner websites. What information is being gathered is ambiguous to most users. DoubleClick doesn’t disclose which information is being gathered, nor why.
advertisements and cookies, web content can be customized specifically for the interests of the user through, gender, race, ethnicity, or income among other things. A male user visiting www.somesite.com may find banner advertisements for “power tools” or “male only” goods, whereas a female visitor to the same website may see advertisements for “makeup” or other “feminine” products. This information can be displayed just by knowing the interests and tastes of the individual user who visits the website.
As in the words of Scott McNealy (Sun MicroSystems) . .
“You have Zero Privacy ONLINE”