Last night, my dad sent me a link to an article online. Because he’s got 2 kids that work heavily with technology (my brother is an IT professional), he’s informed enough to know to check with us before taking what he reads about technology as fact. Or getting excited over any “warnings”.
The gem he found came from the Wall Street Journal and was republished by Yahoo Finance. Some poor idjit wrote about cookies.
Some of you may not see the big deal. Some of you may read the article and fall over laughing.
Yes, in 2010, people are still making a big deal about cookies. This was a huge deal back in the ‘90s, when no one really knew what a cookie was. It was all over the news and seemed to pop up every month.
So, what’s a cookie?
I cookie is a text file, or sometimes just info stored in a file in your browser directory, that is passed from a website to your computer. It is a very small amount of information. It generally contains a string of numbers that only makes sense to the web server that gave you the cookie.
The cookie can not run files. It can not take over your computer. It can not cause you to get hacked or your bank account taken over.
I’ve been using the Internet for 15 years or so…never had a cookie problem once. In fact, I like my cookies.
Why do you want cookies?
Well, if you like to shop, bank, or check email online, have customized web pages when you log into a site, or pull up your home page with features you have specified, you want your cookies. If you disable cookies, then you can’t use any of those features.
But what about the tracking? They’ll know about me!
Hey they know about you WITHOUT the cookies. Because all web servers typically run software that tell site owners about who came to visit the site. It tells nothing about you personally. Not your height and weight. They don’t have access to your high school report card. Forget what you see in movies: they’re not tracing the info to your home and going to bang on your front door. They don’t get that kind of info.
And getting excited about what little info they do get is about as silly as getting excited because people can see you in your car or when you are shopping out in the “real world”. And we can tell a lot more about you then: from your “I’m with stupid” t-shirt, to your height and weight, to what kind of car you drive, and what school your kid is an honor student at.
Yet no one freaks out over other people seeing that information about them in public.
Why is it silly to panic about website tracking?
Let’s say a random visitor shows up on my website. I can tell, thanks to my web hosting software, handy things like this:
If they can run Flash
What operating system they use
Country they are visiting from
What pages they visited
How long was spent on each page
We do not see:
Your credit card accounts
How many kids you have
Where you graduated from school
Or any other personal information.
Are you a website owner?
If yes, then you want to know this information! Many site owners sign up for Google Analytics to track this information too. But as website owners, we want to see the behavior of all the visitors to our site, not just one. This is why we get info on X number of people spending Y amount of time on Z page, not “Joe Bob Bubba came here at 2:04pm from 123 Some Street in Big City, State, USA and spent 5 minutes shopping for ladies panties”.
People pay big money to gather and analyze this kind of information. Some of you may have heard of Analytics (often used in conjunction with Search Engine Optimization). This is what we’re talking about when it comes to website analytics.
Basically, the author of the original article wrote about a non-issue in a similar vein to another story I addressed last year when people panicked about the White House storing visitor data. And the poor journalist probably didn’t know this was not an issue. Or they did and their boss made them write it anyway, or they knew that it would boost readership because nothing gets people to a website like an article about something scary.
For more info about cookies, you can visit these websites
infopackets in Help! My PC Is Infected and being used to Spam!
AboutCookies.org’s Cookie FAQ
If you want to send a warning to your friends, send them this one:
CAUTION: Sending out warnings to everyone you know about cookies may cause you to look awfully silly.