The cookies are NOT overdone

Burnt Cookies

Over the past few weeks there have been a few articles about Google, Facebook, and others looking at new ways to track users movements online without cookies.

As a reminder, “cookies” are digital codes that websites may use to store information about your visit on your computer through your browser. Cookies can assist in the functionality of websites – for example: storing information that may help personalize a users experience on an otherwise static page.

When it comes to marketing and advertising and measuring site effectiveness – cookies are key – even critical.  They are the mechanism that enables sites to track your visits and store information about your browsing habits.

Cookies have therefore been often put at the center of the data privacy and security dialogues regarding fair and clear notice on their use.

Iniatives on proposed changes using new tracking identifiers are pickingup steam because of a few things:

  1. Browser wars on management (allowing/blocking) for third-party cookies
  2. Changes to legal regulations or industry best practice guidelines on how tracking technologies can be placed (or as we say “installed”) on someone’s device
  3. Lack of functionality for Mobile users – there is no functioning third-party cookie mechanism (or the mobile device/browser blocks by default any third-party tracking mechanisms).

Those who are conceiving new schemes for “anonymized” user tracking are still looking to use some sort of a unique identifier that would be relevant to their platforms.  Initiators include:

  • Google.  They own their own massive mobile network, OS, and devices market.
  • Microsoft:  They have the OS market including XBOX or other gaming devices.
  • Facebook:  Well heck – we all know about advertising and selling of data and the deep reach into social and advertising networks.

It appears this is yet another battleground area for these big players to battle for control of the Internet and its’ information. Heck, advertising makes the Internet go round and round and makes people rich!

The reality is, these big companies (and others) are already using different things like browser or device fingerprinting as experimental alternatives.  Any unique identifier of a user visit comes by enabling the web site to look at the characteristics of a computer  – a profile of attributes, such as what plugins and software you have installed, the size of your screen, fonts and other features of your particular machine – even the time zone you are in. Combined, these attribute values form a unique signature  – just as any biometric would – like random skin patterns on a finger.  Some of these fingerprints will become network identifiers – specific to the network and the devices they support like Microsoft and their XBOX gaming system.

In the end – this is likely good for the industry in some cases – and it may not mean the whole existence of the cookie and how we have tracking our own websites will change.  If these giant networks change the way they track users – well that doesn’t necessarily mean all “older” technologies are going away.  At least right away…

So, for now:  Calm Down… It’s not trivial to replace a piece of existing, ubiquitous, foundational technology on which the entire Web depends on overnight.

Cookies are not going away.


P.S. My wife says these are not a picture of her cookies 😉

photo by: slgckgc

5 thoughts on “The cookies are NOT overdone”

  1. Alex Krylov says:

    The start-ups who are devising (and selling!) these alternative mechanisms are not incentivized to wrestle with the privacy implications of what they concoct. Some big companies gleefully sipping their artisanal contextual brews are already having their ‘uh-oh my tummy hurts’ moments. This is where cooperative self-reg comes in with reassuringly warm ginger ale.

    We as an industry need to come up with a better construct to discuss and control these gassy new beverages. (Graphical labeling?) While these innovations make good apéritifs, companies should still munch on boring old cookies. At least they’re consistent and familiar to consumers.

    1. Tom Bartel says:

      Interesting point Alex. I’m not sure what the value is of re-doing the cookie – from an end user perspective. By now, most consumers seemingly are aware of cookies and the practices around notification and use are reasonably pervasive no? What problem(s) is it that Google, Facebook, or Microsoft – or these new startups – are trying to solve with a new identifier?

      1. They are only solving their own needs by trying to close up tracking to their network. Meaning that if you want to get access to a certain audience you need to use their platforms and tracking

        1. Alex Krylov says:

          I agree. Big data companies seem to be jockeying to become the consumer data bureaus of the future. The question for me is what should be our role be in dealing with the “unintended consequences that always seem to accompany significant change”*?

          1. Tom Bartel says:

            Well I know one role: watchdog ! 🙂

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