Last Friday, search engine giant Google Inc. was exposed by the Wall Street Journal in a privacy scandal which some call “cookiegate” involving cookies being installed onto Apple’s browser Safari. The problem is that Google knowingly circumvented Safari’s browser settings in order to install cookies even when users opt for the “no third party cookies” setting. The reason Google puts cookies on a user’s device is to track sites visited, which in turn lets Google tailor internet advertising to the user. In short, the more data Google can collect, the more money it can make through its online advertising business. So, in the wake of recent events at Google Inc. here are the pros and cons of cookies.
- Privacy: The main concern for most users is privacy. Cookie enabled web browsers keep track of all the websites you have visited. This means that with permission (or not in Google’s case), third parties can access the information stored by these cookies. These third parties can be advertisers, other users, or even the government in some cases.
- Security: Cookie security is a large problem. The concern is that many security holes have been found in different browsers. Some of these holes were so serious that they allowed malicious webmasters to gain access to users’ email, different passwords, and credit card information.
- Secrecy: Although third party cookies can be blocked through your browser settings, most people don’t have the technical expertise to do this. Most browsers purposely make it difficult to find this setting in order to prevent you from turning them off. No cookies mean no data, which in turn means less money.
- Conveniency: Cookies not only remember which websites you have been to, they also remember information about forms. Tired of filling out your address every time you buy something online? Cookies can make filling out address forms quick and efficient. Most online shopping websites nowadays allow cookies for address and email information but make you fill out your credit card information each time.
- Effective Advertising: How nice would it be to only be offered products or services that are relevant to you? Internet marketing companies collect data from cookies to run marketing campaigns aimed at a very specific market segment including product group, geolocation, search term, and demographics.
- Ease of Control: It is actually really easy to manage your cookies if you know how. Most browsers make it easy for you to clear your browsing history. Just go to tools, clear history and select cookies. Cookies are stored on your hard drive in a text file under cookie.txt, and since it is a text file you can use just about any viewer or text editor to display, edit, and delete them.
In context to Google’s case, cookies are not always bad. Google’s intentions were to make their +1 buttons for Google+ more effective across different browsers. While Google may have used some taboo tactics to bypass Safari’s browser, their intentions were to make their search more personable. This tactic has however landed them a lawsuit. From a user perspective, cookies are there to make web browsing more efficient and personalized. If you have nothing to hide from search engines, enabling cookies will make your web browsing experience more pleasant and efficient. We would love to hear what your opinions are on cookie privacy, please feel free to share below.