Those Not-so-delicious Cookies

Featured, Privacy Issues

As more and more news about “controlling” the internet spread in every corner of the world, awareness about preserving some online anonymity is getting more exposure. Indeed, while in the US, online piracy is in the center of a very intense debate around the Stop Online PiracyAct (SOPA); the European Union is trying to apply the “cookie law” where every e-commerce website is expected to ask for permission from the internet user before storing a cookie. Learn about the not-so-delicious cookies.

That not-so-delicious cookie

You’ve surely been advised by some IT support person to remove cookies from your browser if, for some reason, you have issues browsing one specific website. In fact, a cookie is some kind of specific code that most websites are storing on your browser. The main argument that website developer mention when they have to use cookies is that it allows them to customize your whole experience. Now it depends on how you see things.

Let’s take the Amazon.com shopping experience for example. As you browse an Amazon.com website, you surely have noticed that it reminds you of things you did on the site before (the products you checked on your last visit for example). Based on this information, Amazon can even recommend you similar products thereby making the whole shopping more prone to discovering similar products that may interest you (hence, increasing the chance you’ll buy from Amazon).

Should you have browsed Amazon.com while logged into your Amazon account, then Amazon would even be better at tracking and “customizing” your whole Amazon shopping experience. But interestingly, even if you don’t have an Amazon account, Amazon.com and your browser have made a “secret deal” so that they “talk on your back” so as to enhance your internet shopping experience. That’s what cookies are meant for.

But cookies also troublesome.

In fact, a lot of websites want to store a cookie on your browser. Let’s, for example, consider the “affiliate marketing” business. The principle is simple: let’s consider again an affiliate marketer that sells Amazon.com products. The principle is simple: Amazon gives some percentage of the sales made on its platform for those who referenced the sale. In order to track who referenced the sale, cookies (again) are used.

So if I have a website xyz.com that sells an Amazon product, and another “competitor” sells the same product from abc.com store: we both store cookies on your computer as we both want Amazon to send us a commission if you buy a product.

At some point in time, Amazon has to know which one he should give the commissions too if a purchase is made. That’s why, if you’ve ever run through an affiliate site, they usually ask you to “clean your cookies” before clicking on an affiliate link: this actually invites you to erase any other competitor’s trace from your computer so that he’ll get the credit for sending you to Amazon.

Back to you …

If you ever took the time to check the list of not-so-delicious cookies that your browser stores while you are surfing, you’d be amazed about the high number of sites that have stored something on your computer.

While those are all done automatically, imagine that the EU cookie act goes through: as an internet user, you’ll have to validate any cookie before allowing them to be stored on your computer. Would you feel comfortable about it?

 

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