Cookie Deletion

I do wonder sometimes whether or not digital media industry is desperately trying to cause more problems to itself than is absolutely necessary.
Take cookies.
Cookies are clearly very useful. They serve many purposes for many websites, as well as advertising networks and so on. They can be very powerful. And users find them useful – when I visit a site, it already knows who I am, and cookies help me carry out tasks that I want to carry out.
And yet, and yet, and yet…
According to a recentish ComScore piece of research 26.8% of users in the UK delete their cookies in a given month, this rises to 35.0% for third party cookies (the difference seems to be do with security software settings).
So already, lots of people are deleting their cookies, but – in a given month – most won’t.
I wonder, therefore, if the digital media industry is helping itself with some of the things it’s doing.
– We have Facebook seemingly not removing (or making inactive) cookies when users logout allowing them to track usage of individuals on Facebook enabled websites even when they’ve logged out (Facebook has promised to fix this [UPDATE] They have).
– Airlines’ websites “seem” to remember whether you’ve searched for a specific flight before, and also “seem” to put the price up when you search for the same flight a little bit later. More and more savvy travellers are learning to delete cookies before searching for flights.
– The same is said to be true for some hotel groups.
I’m firmly convinced that most people do not realise quite the extent that they’re being tracked by cookies. I’m also firmly of the view that it’s their security software that is “managing” their cookies rather than users diligently going into their browsers’ settings and deleting cookies.
But moves like the above only mean cookies fall directly into the public gaze. And I’m fairly sure that the public isn’t going to like what it finds.
Then there’s the small matter of the European directive on cookies that might still be on the backburner right now, but at some point is going to be enormously unpleasant for some.
Cookies are going to be much bigger news than they have been previously – of that much I’m certain. And the news isn’t going to be good.

3 Comments

  1. You’ve got it wrong, sir.
    COOKIES aren’t spying on me. A Twitter cookie is a Twitter cookie, and if I load this very page, Twitter have no idea that I’ve loaded it, since the browser security model means that they can’t see what page I’m loading. They need code in your website to do that.
    Which, you’ve obligingly placed on this very page. That tweet button is running JavaScript direct from Twitter: and now they know, from the referrer, exactly what page I’m on – and from my Twitter cookie, exactly who I am.
    The Google+ button that you’ve placed next to it is capable of sending back to Google my details: and once more, it knows exactly who I am, since it’s using a google.com domain. (Google Analytics doesn’t, so I’m not identifiable to that).
    Cookies aren’t the concern. The concern is that it’s becoming almost impossible to use the web without Facebook, Twitter or Google putting us under surveillance: and that’s because people like you plaster pages with their code.
    http://james.cridland.net/code/privatesharebuttons.html incidentally contains replacement code that doesn’t phone home to Twitter every time I load a page.

  2. OK. I’ve concatenated a couple of things into the word “cookie”. And yes, you’re right, it’s the javascript calls made by Facebook, Twitter, Google and so on which allow them to know where a user is.
    But those javascript calls work alongside cookies.
    Personally, I’ve not seen evidence thus far that Twitter or Google misuse the data they collect. I’m not going to immediately disable the buttons as you are doing (although I thank you for the workarounds).
    And as for “people like me” – I think that’s a bit rich. I like the fact that you’ve had something of a Damascene conversion over privacy, but I’m sure that a certain commenter here has – until very recently – liberally littered his own sites with similar buttons. Indeed on a certain major UK website still adopts Facebook as its commenting system…
    As for Facebook. Well rearrange the words “freeze”, “hell”, “over” and “will” to discover quite how soon I will be adopting Facebook on this site.
    However, it is a simple case of cookies on certain travel booking sites that are used when determining prices. And I would argue that it’s a very bad thing for consumers to be regularly thinking about deleting all their cookies just to ensure that they get the lowest possible fare on a flight to Nice. Yet that is where we are.

Comments are closed.