Track or Do Not Track – What do you think?


cookies

The news that Firefox 22 is set to block third party cookies by default has, unsurprisingly, not been well received by the online ad industry. On the other hand, I’d expect the majority of users to greet the decision with a modicum of… ‘way to go Mozilla!!’. But is it that simple, is perhaps our own self interest likely to end up exacerbating an undermining of the internet as we know it?

Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), issued a strongly worded statement fiercely condemning this latest move by Mozilla, labeling it “dangerous and highly disturbing“. Included in Mr. Rothenberg’s lengthy statement is the following:

If Mozilla follows through on its plan … the disruption will disenfranchise every single Internet user. All of us will lose the freedom to choose our own online experiences; we will lose the opportunity to monitor and protect our privacy; and we will lose the chance to benefit from independent sites … because thousands of small businesses that make up the diversity of content and services online will be forced to close their doors.

  • (You can read that statement in full here: http://www.iab.net/mozilla_rothenberg)

privacyI must say, in all honesty, I do agree with Mr. Rothenberg and the online ad industry’s stance to a certain extent. Many, many sites, including our very own DCT, rely solely on ad revenue for survival. We’re not talking about making huge profits here, we’re talking about merely trying to cover overheads, where even a moderate decrease in ad revenue could mean possible (even probable) extinction for literally thousands of sites. Or, perhaps even worse, irreversibly change the ‘free-of- charge’ nature of the internet we all know and enjoy today into one which is primarily subscription based. I am a strong privacy advocate but I also honestly believe we can take the ideal too far, to the extent where we wander off the path of pragmatism. Insistence on absolute privacy could easily and quickly lead to catastrophic changes in the way content and services are delivered online and ultimately destroy our very own freedoms of choice. Imagine the millions of ‘little’ sites gone and the bigger more powerful sites, often backed by major corporations,  exerting even more dominance and influence, virtually monopolizing the internet… not a pretty picture!

The move by Mozilla to block 3rd party tracking cookies by default is not in itself a seriously crippling move but I can appreciate the ad industry’s concerns that it may well be a stepping stone to ever more stringent measures… especially when one considers the adverse publicity associated with tracking cookies of late. Personally, I believe this near paranoid attitude displayed by some privacy advocates is misplaced. These cookies do NOT know who you are, they do not collect personally identifying information. They are merely utilized to help evaluate a user’s online browsing trends in an effort to offer ads which are of privacy keyparticular interest. If someone says to me, “but they know which sites I am visiting”… I say, so what!!

I am not, for one minute, attempting to diminish the importance of online privacy. I just feel there is a ratio between degree of criticality and consequences of actions which needs to be taken into consideration… a little lateral thinking. Advertising is, to a certain extent, the lifeblood of the internet, and there are many aspects of online privacy which are far more intrusive and threatening  than mere tracking cookies. If tracking users online shopping habits can in any way help maintain a viable online ad industry which is essential to the long term survival of the internet as we know it… and the freedoms it currently offers… then I believe it is an extremely worthwhile trade-off.


So, what do you think?

About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

7 Comments

  1. Jim, I hear what you say, but I’ve been blocking third party cookies, and banners for years now, and some of what I call crap for a better name, still gets through. I do not like the idea that someone can track, thus make a profile. I used to enjoy visiting a radio station, playing along, in the hopes of winning a prize. That was until the Media company which owns the radio station started to overload my email account with junk they though I’d like. That’s when I wondered about what cookies were safe, and which should be blocked at the start. Yes cookies at favourite sites help store information about your last visit, etc, and are harmless, especially at forums and here. But one does not known where the bad guys are lurking, so deleting tracks is the way to go.

    But, here is what I don’t understand. Even if third party vendors are blocked from tracking, they still keep track of each visit, via your ip address. Having some do it manually, or having it done for you automatically, I don’t see the difference, Mindblower!

    • Hey MB – There are two distinctly separate types of cookies… 1) Primary cookies, which emanate directly from the source (the site we are visiting) and… 2) Third Party cookies which, as the name suggests, emanate from a third party source. Each type is self-contained. so information collected, such as IP addresses, does not crossover.

      HTH,
      Cheers… Jim

      • Maybe I should ask exactly what information do third party vendors receive, and better yet why do they require such information? Here’s a silly question, like do we wonder how we’re tracked when we use our credit or debit cards? It’s not like they monitor exactly each item we purchase, right? Just might be the term of being TRACKED that has us so paranoid. But does not our Internet Provider already track our every move (not keystroke), so is it just the term, or fear that we’re not being given all the correct information, that has us so concerned? This then bring up the reasoning behind why would Firefox what to do this? Way to many question, thoughts, to process, IMHO, Mindblower!

  2. I have to say I have never understood the paranoia with cookies as, in most cases, they perform useful functions such as remembering who you are to save you having to continually type in your ID, they remember what pages on a site you have already visited – I find this really useful on archive type sites with hundreds of similar pages so that I don’t have to keep track of which ones I have yet to visit and on some integrated sites session cookies can maintain your login to something for the whole browser session.

    If I was concerned about my history privacy I would go behind an anonymous proxy or simply delete cookies when I closed down my computer – they are so well known and so easy to deal with why do we need nanny browsers to deal with it for us without even asking our preference? Advertising and marketing is annoying BUT is not a bad thing- why because ultimately it is a question of whether you want to pay for your experience on the internet by being annoyed from time to time or whether you pay for content – personally I will pay with slight annoyance as opposed to hard cash anytime!

    • gbswales says,”… in most cases, they perform useful functions…”

      In most cases, that may be so. But, what about the rest of the cases? Are we supposed to accept any abuse of our privacy just because “most” sites are not abusive? I don’t think so.

      The truth is, cookies exist more for the convenience of the website owner than for the user. Users don’t need them, period.

      Cookies, especially third party cookies, violate the dominion and sovereignty of MY web browser. The Internet never needed them and never will need them. The Internet, along with the vast majority of useful, independent sites, will survive just fine without them. Third party cookies will simply be replaced with something more complicated, but more honest.

      • The truth is, cookies exist more for the convenience of the website owner than for the user. Users don’t need them, period.

        Not so; try purchasing an item online minus the use of cookies. See what happens when you navigate from the product page to the checkout and try to complete the transaction…. oops.

  3. I don’t know what they do now, but some years ago I disabled third-party cookies and discovered that Vanguard’s secure login made use of third-party cookies. Thus they probably used a third-party to handle the login. I had to re-enable third-party cookies and have kept them enabled ever since. Some things we want to do don’t work without cookies, and sometimes it’s third-party cookies.