You may or may not have heard of cookies, and before we go any farther lets get everyone on the same page, we are talking computer cookies.
Cookies are teeny files that are deposited on your hard drive while you surf the Internet. A cookie definition is a text only string that gets entered into the memory of your browser. A cookie is sometimes referred to as an HTTP cookie, web cookie, or browser cookie. However, all cookies aren’t the same, in general they seem to be pretty harmless. They tend to expire quickly and actually make websites easier to use.
For example, you know those logins that remember you as you start typing in your information – that’s the cookies. Maybe creepy, but most just pass it off for the convenience factor.
That doesn’t seem too bad, a couple of sites you frequent often remembering your information, right? No, it gets personal and creepy when you throw in the word tracking.
Tracking has been defined by the Center for Democracy and Technology as “the collection and correlation of data about the Internet activities of a particular user, computer or device over time and across non-commonly branded Web sites, for any purpose other than fraud prevention or compliance with law enforcement requests.”
Long term tracking cookies, aren’t your run of the mill cookies. These cookies can actually collect a lot of information about what web sites you visit, and what you look at and do on those web pages also.
Your web browsing habits can be tracked and profiled, which can ultimately allow companies to make predictions on your “offline” purchasing habits.
So what is the problem with these “long term tracking cookies”? Companies such as advertisers or web analytic groups, may know more about you than you think they should. Not only do they have information about you, they can sell this information too.
However, there is good news: you can easily delete your cookie from your browser as often as you like. But deleting your cookie file entirely will make you start from scratch with every website you visit – there goes your convenience factor.
To protect yourself you can also opt-out of having your information used by third-party ad servers. This site also allows you to see what and how many third parties companies are tracking you, check it out by visiting: http://www.networkadvertising.org/managing/opt_out.asp or more recently request to be on the “Do Not Track” list. Do Not Track allows users to hide their browsing activity from advertisers.
And don’t think you are not interesting enough to be tracked, if you are on Facebook then this might be of interest to you. Facebook is once again being sued for tracking their users even after they have signed off of Facebook. This isn’t the first time Facebook has been accused of using cookies to track users after they have logged out of their account. Facebook has said they don’t track users across the Web and its cookies are used to personalize content. And for the tracking cookies, after you log out, it’s for your safety and protection. I’m not so sure about that….
With that being said, ourselves as the user need to be aware of how, where, and why our information is being used. It is definitely something to think about, whether your browsing activity is allowing companies and the government to manipulate us, the consumers, too much? Lucky for us their are multiple privacy and advocate groups and that are out there trying to protect our privacy and push companies to be more transparent about the data they collect.