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Speed or Privacy?

October 13, 2010
Am I a brownie? Am I a cookie? I'm so conflicted!

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If you’re like me, the Internet is a tool.  I use it to read the news, update my social networks, blog, shop, set reservations…the list goes on and on.   I key in credit card numbers or social security numbers, hit a few buttons and my work is done.  I do not really think twice about where this information goes.  I trust the system and hope for the best.  It is just too convenient to be overly paranoid.  I chalk up the few “tailored to my interest” ads in my Google account as an even swap for the online experience.  

However, as the conveniences due to technology advance so does the ability to tap into our privacy.  But, how does this really affect us?  What would it take for the issue to really create a collective movement? 

Lately, Internet privacy concerns are popping up everywhere and we hear statements like:

“…coding may offer hackers more tracking opportunities…”

“…sites collect your personal information…”

“…Evercookie that worms its way into far corners of your PC and quietly gathers information about your Web habits. 

We only hear select words or phrases, which we piece together to make this phrase:

~Hackers gather your personal information~

O.K., this is a slight exaggeration, but the publicized word choice does, in fact, influence our judgment about privacy.  Are cookies bad for us or are they a welcomed treat to our online experience?  This is for you to decide, once you have all the facts.  In basic terms, a cookie can be described as:

  • An arbitrary piece of text (NOT a program) stored on your computer. 
  • The text stored is called a name-value pair:  Each website issues a unique ID, consisting of numbers and letters, which identify the visitor (web browser – not you personally).
  • A website later retrieves this information to facilitate a unique session identifier.
  • Multiple computer usage and the ability to delete cookies necessitated the need for user IDs.

Please Note: 

  • A website can only retrieve its own stored information.  It cannot retrieve personal files or a different websites’ cookie files from your computer.
  • You have control over your privacy settings. 

Similar to a sales person, a cookie only knows what you tell it.  The more you disclose the better a sales person can assist you.  Knowing your interests and needs by tracking your usage stimulates options that will personally appeal to you.

To explain, in its full potential, the continuing debate concerning online privacy could take days or weeks.  But, knowing more about cookies, let’s tackle the newest buzzword: Evercookie

Samy Kamkar, best known for the virus called the “Samy Worm,” which single-handedly took down My Space, in 2005, has developed a cookie which works its way into numerous places on your computer and, at this point, is impossible to remove – even stumping the experts. Disturbed and intrigued by the tracking cookies advertisers placed on his computer, Kamkar, claiming nothing but altruistic intent, created the Evercookie to expose the privacy flaws associated with the new HTML5 (Hyper Text Markup Language).  Kamkar said, “I think it’s O.K. for them to say we want to provide better service…However, I should also be able to opt out because it is my computer.”

What are you first thoughts regarding Evercookie?  Or cookies and privacy in general? 

Personally, I agree with Kamkar.  I support an opt-in approach to privacy.  Essentially, give the individual the choice to enable cookies or not.  My gut tells me, regardless of which approach becomes the norm,the  majority will pick enabling cookies for the shear convenience and speed it provides the daily user.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2010 11:12 am

    Very well thought and written. The tracking cookies are the last thing we think about while surfing or shopping on net. I agree with you and Kamkar that we should have the choice to enable or disable the cookies. We should be deciding who should follow us and who shouldn’t.
    The privacy flaws associated with HTML should be addressed by the companies as soon as possible!

    • Katie Hutchinson permalink*
      October 18, 2010 12:15 pm

      Thanks. And, yes they do need to address the increasing accessibility to the individual’s information. The issue with HTML5 and the Evercookie is that some programs are able to cross reference, so it is possible to disclose the actual user and not just the computer as an ID number. But, I don’t think I’d enjoy the online experience as much without some cookies – I am one for speed and easy use, which cookies offer – so I think it needs to be a balance. We shall see how things turn out.

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