Privacy | Cookies


Study Guide

    What are Cookies?

Cookies are pieces of information generated by a Web server and stored in the user's computer, ready for future access. Cookies are embedded in the HTML information flowing back and forth between the user's computer and the servers. Cookies were implemented to allow user-side customization of Web information. For example, cookies are used to personalize Web search engines, to allow users to participate in WWW-wide contests (but only once!), and to store shopping lists of items a user has selected while browsing through a virtual shopping mall. - Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (CookieCentral)

    Ethical Issues writes:

Many organizations use ``cookies'' to track your every move on their site. A cookie is a unique identifier that a web server places on your computer: a serial number for you personally that can be used to retrieve your records from their databases. It's usually a string of random-looking letters long enough to be unique. They are kept in a file called cookies or cookies.txt or MagicCookie in your browser directory/folder. They are also known as ``persistent cookies'' because they may last for years, even if you change ISP or upgrade your browser.

If you look at your cookies file you may see the names of web sites that you have never heard of. They were probably put there by companies that resell advertising space from a large number of popular sites. Those ad placement companies maintain huge databases recording details of who looks at which pages. The larger ones have cookies in place on millions of peoples' browsers. If you use one of the popular search engines, the queries you type are probably being logged and analyzed too.

Any web site that knows your identity and has cookie for you could set up procedures to exchange their data with the companies that buy advertising space from them, synchronizing the cookies they both have on your computer. This possibility means that once your identity becomes known to a single company listed in your cookies file, any of the others might know who you are every time you visit their sites.

    Benefits of Cookies

It may seem as if cookies are completely bad. This is not the case. According to Dave Evans -

Cookies allow a web application to respond to you as an individual. By gathering and remembering information about your preferences, the web application can tailor its operation to your needs, likes and dislikes.

For example, a cookie can be used to remember your name and the colors and fonts that you prefer to see - to be fair, a password could do the same thing, but doesn't it just feel nice to be greeted by name when you walk into a store? Sure it does! Cookies can keep track of what you are doing while using the application. When you visit an electronic store, a cookie makes it easy to shop by allowing you to drop things into a virtual "cart" - the cookie actually keeps track of your cart versus others in use at the same time.

The benefits of cookies can be summed up simply: cookies allow web developers to create better web applications, applications that are more personal, easier to use and richer in their degree of interactivity. Of course, cookies do not in themselves make a winning application, and many great sites exist that don’t use cookies at all. Cookies are simply one technology out of a range of tools that developers use to improve your experience on the Web.

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