The Benefits, and the Fear, of Cookie Technology

March 2005
by Reid Goldsborough

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You wouldn’t think a computer tool with a name as innocuous-sounding as cookie would create the fear that it does. But these tiny Web-browser helpers are an example of how the useful can get tossed in with the dangerous through the near-hysteria brought about by the real threats of computer viruses, hacking, spyware, spam, and phishing.

Antispyware legislation that has been considered by Congress in the past and that probably also will be considered in the future has the potential of banning cookies that you don’t specifically agree to allow a Web site to place on your computer’s hard disk. At first glance this seems like a good idea, but it would hurt the online advertising industry, and for consumers, it would likely mean that fewer free sites and more pay sites.

So what exactly are cookies, and are they really worth getting worked up over?

The Purposes and Problems

A cookie is a small data file that can serve a number of purposes. It can prevent you from having to log in with your user name and password each time you visit a site that requires a login. It can keep track of your preferences with sites that allow you to specify the type of content you want to see or how you want to see it. It can be used by e-commerce security systems to identify your browser as protection against hackers. And it can be a way for Web sites and their advertisers to track where people click so they can better target their content and adve…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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