Much Ado About Nothing: Why the Cookie Craze?

In the Wired article “Stop the Do Not Track Madness,” Lauren Weinstein takes issue with the controversy around “Do Not Track” functionality for browsers to block cookies.  As he notes, “emotion and political gamesmanship have often replaced common sense and logic to no good end.”  As someone who has worked with internet technologies since the development of ARPANET  in the 70s, I respect his perspective on this issue.

We see groups making an emotional appeal to the press/consumers that cookies are by default a bad thing for consumers and need to be stopped. Politicians seem to be using this argument in order to score points, but they don’t truly understand how the technologies involved work or the impact their proposals would have. There have been efforts to build privacy controls directly into the browser before the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P), but ultimately those standards were not widely adopted and the impact was minimal (I believe only Internet Explorer supports P3P).  To Mr. Weinstein’s point, preventing data collection and reducing the value of web ads to advertisers is going to hurt websites that are offering content and services at no cost to the visitor.

Industry self-regulation efforts to date have worked to provide transparency and multiple levels of control to consumers when it comes to interest data being collected online.

  • The first level of control that the consumer has is the cookie itself – cookies are inherently temporary storage mechanisms.
  • The second level of control is restricting the kind of data that companies can collect.
  • A third level of control over most companies in the space is to completely open the kimono and be transparent to the consumer about the information we have in a cookie about them and give them the ability to change those preferences or delete the cookie altogether.

We were one of the early advocates for consumer transparency – our preference manager was one of the first projects our R&D team built. By collecting only aggregate data points,  not collecting personally-identifiable data, keeping that data for only a short period of time, and being transparent to the consumer about what targeting attributes are associated with their cookies, we believe the trade-off to more relevant ads that are more valuable to advertisers and websites will make for a positive web experience – for all parties involved.

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