Internet cookies seem to have the best name with a somewhat negative perception. Its really not the cookie thats to blame. Most geeks will laugh that we even would consider this topic for a video but the fact remains, too many people misunderstand the value and besides, its part of the Networking 101 series..its supposed to be basic!
The negative reputation seems to have started back in 2000 as the never ending privacy debates were reaching a fever pitch. And just like people who love to blame powerpoint for their crummy presentations, the fact is, the cookie is not to blame..its a tool that frankly adds a lot of value to our web experience.
Lots of misinformation has fed this debate over the years, much of it led by false information that stated cookie are programs.
They are not programs at all. They are simply text stored as name/value pairs. That text can be placed on the users hard drive with the intention of serving as a unique ID that benefits the site that placed it. At its most basic, this becomes helpful for when I want a site to know who I am when I arrive so that they can customize my experience. This capability emerged so that web sites could approximate ‘state’ information. Since web surfing is a stateless experience, its potentially ground hog day every time we hit enter and submit data…even to a site that we have been on for the past hour.
Cookies are not as useful for those of us who use multiple machines or log in from a shared computer once in awhile. This is one reason why we are often asked to register at a site – this way cookies can be updated for the machine we are on.
So what are the negatives? Well, the obvious one is that any site I use regularly can continue to build richer information about me that I may think is valuable for when I engage with them, but its also very valuable to others. This is where reputation and privacy policies become real important.
Another risk is what is is sometimes called tracking cookies. This is where information is tracked across multiple sites then collected and correlated. As you are hopefully aware, this type of tracking can build an extremely rich profile of you quite quickly. Cookies are technically site specific but when we visit a website…we are technically visiting multiple sites with every page – much of it of course could be ads. These ads may be centrally administered and thus have cookies that can track in many more places.
There is more information and details than what I am sharing here of course. Watch Jimmy Ray’s Networking 101 to get his advice and make sure you know what you are doing!