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Archive for November 30th, 2007

SafeLike the famous book “Give A Mouse A Cookie…” by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Illustrator Felicia Bond, “cookies” are often used by advertisers and Web analytic firms on most all web sites.   They place “tracking cookies” on your computer.  And like the book, the mouse will “ask for a glass of milk…” you can sure bet those web advertisers and analytic firms will be asking you for something. 

In most cases they don’t even let you know that they’ve ask!  Let me explain.  On the web, a “cookie” is a small text file that contains a string of alphanumeric characters. The tracking cookies tell companies what you are doing online, even though they don’t typically record your name or other personably identifiable information. The cookies are used by companies to try and match ads to a user’s interests or in the above mouse example they will “ask for a glass of milk”. 

There are two types of cookies used on most websites: a persistent cookie and a session cookie. A persistent cookie gets entered by your Web browser into the “Cookies” folder on your computer and remains in this “Cookies” folder after you close your browser. Persistent cookies may be used by your browser on subsequent visits to the site. A session cookie is held temporarily in your computer’s memory and disappears after you close your browser or shut off your computer. There are websites that use Web beacons (also called “clear GIFs” or “pixel tags”) in conjunction with cookies. Web beacons are small strings of code that are placed in a Web page. For example, if you arrive at website by clicking on a banner ad for a product or service, a session cookie may be used. This cookie will contain an identification number for the ad that you clicked on, or will contain an identification number for the site that you were visiting when you clicked on the banner ad. 

Most web sites tell you nothing upfront about tracking cookies, or how to get rid of these tracking cookies assuming that you want too.  Cookies are used all over the Web, but in most cases, their presence is only disclosed deep inside privacy policies.  When was the last time you read a privacy policy? 

Some of the more reputable web sites want you to know how to get rid of these tracking cookies or opt out of the cookies set by any ad-placement or analytic contractor they might use and will provide the information.  For example, here is a link to a page where you can opt out of the cookies set by an ad-placement or analytics contractor of Omniture

 I’d prefer a totally opt-in system, but, as far as I know, the ad industry doesn’t have a practical one yet and not enough consumers have complained about tracking cookies to make an impact for the industry to change. If you want to clean out all tracking cookies from all your Web sites the following links take you where you can download three programs that can help clean out tracking cookies: 

 I’ve used some of these applications and been satisfied with the results, but give them a try and let me know your results. You can also change the preferences or settings in your Web browser to control cookies. In some cases, you can choose to accept cookies from the primary site, but block them from third parties. In others, you can block cookies from specific advertisers, or clear out all cookies. 

Not all cookies are tracking cookies. Like a lot of Web sites, they may place cookies on your computer, in addition to any placed by advertisers. But they aren’t “tracking cookies.” They merely do things like save your registration information, if you choose to register. They do not tell the companies what you do or where you go online. 

I’ll take warm milk with my cookies, thank you.

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