Friday, October 21, 2011
Most people by now are familiar with cookies. They are the friendly pieces of code that remember you on the web – helping you fill out forms, remembering your location and keeping you signed in. They are also the way we track our advertising - how we discern uniques, how we track sales, how we behaviourally target & retarget. They are in short how the web knows who we are.
Super cookies have been in the news lately. The label is a bit of a misnomer, but generally refer to a type of cookie that is indefinite, difficult to delete and tracks a lot of data.
Most cookies have a limited persistence: 30, 60, 90 days… Advertisers limit cookie windows so as not to over-count conversion. One week, or even one day windows are not uncommon. Super cookies however are indefinite, tracking users across months or years, building a rich data pool about their behaviour. Sound familiar? That’s because they are the cookies often used for behavioural targeting.
In themselves these cookies are fairly innocuous - what worries some people is how difficult they are to delete. Regular cookies are fairly easy to delete as anyone with a slight knowledge of internet settings or a spyware program knows. A supercookie however isn't, it is hidden in the depths of the registry. And their close relatives Zombie cookies (seriously you can’t make this stuff up) automatically recreates itself after a user deletes it.
Also the data these cookies collect can concern people - the news Facebook tracks users across the web even after they have logged out, is a good example [watch this space for another post on Facebook vs Privacy, that is a whole other war]. A supercookie allows a site (or network) to build a profile of a user, sites visited, words searched, products purchased. This seems frightening, but really shouldn’t be. Sure a network might know I have read TV reviews, searched for a Sony Bravia & spent time on Trade Me looking at TVs – but if it means they serve me ads for new TVs, it only improves my browsing experience. All reputable networks or sites selling behavioural data, sell segments -- data aggregated and never personally identifiable.
Cookies are nothing to fear, they make our browsing experience faster, more relevant and more personal. Just make sure you have the right safeguards in place to prevent a tummy ache…