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John Adams Blog

The blog of The Antient and Honourable John Adams Society, Minnesota's Conservative Debating Society www.johnadamssociety.org

Monday, April 10, 2006

Good Companies, Evil Cookies

As occasionally happens, I needed a quick translation of a foreign phrase this morning and pulled up the first translation service off the search engine, pasted in my phrase and was done with it. Or so I thought. A few minutes ago I received an email urging me to Learn a Foreign Language in Ten Days.

I am downright diligent about deleting unwanted cookies and other spyware, running my Spybot program a couple of times a day. And my firewall is made of steel. I think. But apparently I’m just not as good as the cookie monsters. It must be that I have a weakness for the conveniences of some cookies, that I dislike having to log in everywhere day after day.

But being cheap and easy with your cookies can lead to bigger issues than some occasional junk email which may easily be filtered. The May issue of Smart Money (which I received sometime in March) describes major sites, including Dell and Amazon, as offering different prices to consumers based on their surfing habits. And there’s no way for you to know if you’re getting the best deal unless you clear your cookie files and try again. And again with new and different cookies.

For a quick example, scroll down on this very page to see what Amazon is offering you here. Pencil reported that he was being peddled the little whore dolls, as his surfing behavior indicated that young females were present in his household. My firewall won't permit me to view the Amazon ad (what does that tell you?) but by briefly disabling my fierce defender, I can be sold a SanDisk SDSDB-1024-A10 1 GB Secure Digital Card for $38.99, though, Amazon warns, "Prices may change."

I have long thought that the internet was the answer to perfect information for perfect capitalism. But is it?

(As an aside, if you mistakenly subscribe to Money, a publication of CNN, thinking it couldn’t possibly have a bent, or if it did, that it was surely toward fiscal conservatism, switch to Smart Money, a publication of the WSJ, immediately.)

Blogger festivus said...

Scribbler, I'm not an expert on this, but I'm probably more well versed than 95% of the general public. Cookies are items placed by one site that can ONLY be read (barring a major security hole in your browser) by the site that put them there.

For a site to store your email address in a cookie, it has to first know about it, and generally the only way for it to know about it is for you to give it to them, which I suspect you did not.

Again, one site (like your translation site) cannot read cookies or information that you don't give them, so I suspect this is a weird coincidence.

That said, a single site [OR ads generated by a single site that appear on another site] can (and should) track what you do on that site and present you with things that match your buying habits. For instance, I generally get presented with computer and history books and jazz CDs on on Amazon ads, because I buy a number of them. They know I buy that stuff, and THEIR ads know it's me and give me customized information. If I go to, say Books-a-Million, they cannot read Amazon's cookies and tell me what I bought there.

Additionally, a smart site won't actually store information about your preferences on your computer. Instead, it stores an identifier unique to you that allows them to look it up on the big servers they have, and those servers customize the web pages you're presented with. In this case, even if Books-a-Million was able to access the Amazon cookies, they can't do much with something like {5FF91D84-1B63-47f3-AB22-E2C77024FBCC} unless they also hacked into Amazon's back end servers, a very unlikely possibility.

Bottom line: there's a lot of misinformation about cookies, and they aren't too dangerous. In fact, without them, your browsing experience would be far less enjoyable.

4:26 PM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger Scribbler de Stebbing said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:23 PM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger Scribbler de Stebbing said...

There are a number of all-purpose tracking cookies such as hitbox, adtracker, I don't recall all the names. I don't know what deals they all cut behind the scenes, but tracking cookies specifically monitor what sites a user visits and makes that data available for targeting purposes.

I did wonder how a language outfit could have gotten my email, but realized I have a passport cookie, and my email address is right there in text. Rethinking it, however, I believe you're right, Festivus, that with my firewall, an unathorized guest shouldn't be able to access that cookie.

But many different sites can and share cookies, such as the aforementioned hitbox and other spyware.

I'll re-read the Smart Money article to see if they say how exactly Dell does it.

I agree that cookies are great in many ways. I don't have to retype my location every time I want to check the weather. But there are also bad cookies out there, and running something like Spybot is warranted.

6:28 PM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger Scribbler de Stebbing said...

From PCWorld.com:

"Cookie Central, a clearinghouse for cookie information, states that some Web advertising companies, including FocaLink and DoubleClick, surreptitiously set cookies that report back directly to them and keep track of your cookies with a database. By cross-referencing various cookies they have on you, they can profile your interests, spending habits, and lifestyle to target-market products to you. And as Net advertising companies grow and buy out related firms--as DoubleClick recently did with direct-marketing agency Abacus Direct--more people are growing concerned about how information gathered through cookies will be used. Using data Abacus may have on you, such as your name and address, DoubleClick could use its cookies, which contain a record of your surfing habits, to create a profile of your activities."

8:48 PM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger Harsh Pencil said...

Get a Mac. Get a Mac. Get a Mac.

I have never had a virus. Theoretically, Macs could get virus, but they just don't. A big, but overblown, deal is that hackers don't want to write MacOS viruses because of the smaller base of users. But the operating system also has fewer holes for the hackers to exploit.

I have never run an adware or spyware checker before tonight. I surf all the time. I just did a scan for adware, spyware. None. Zip. Nada.

Get a mac.

9:22 PM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger Scribbler de Stebbing said...

Because no one bothers writing viruses for Macs. ROTFLMAO. Actually, Macs have improved immensely since I bought my last one 10 years or more ago. And you can now run Win XP in addition to the Mac OS. But why pay more to get the same specs or less than you can get with a PC? No, I was a devout, though private, Machead for 6 years maybe, in the early 90's. Then I grew up. Sigh.

I can handle the viruses. It's the cookies that you have to pick through, because, as Festivus points out, the vast majority ARE good. You can't surf effectively without cookies. Are you sure the adware scan you ran was configured for a Mac?

9:43 PM, April 10, 2006  

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