Website Wednesday – The Cookie Crumbles

cookies

This is not a story about ridding yourself of delicious sweet cookies. How many of you stocked up on Girl Scout cookies last month? We would hate to try and make you throw them away. Of course, you are welcome to send us any unopened boxes of Thin Mints you might want to part with.

No, this is rather a story on the demise of the internet cookie, or more specifically, the third-party cookies we’ve all come to hate. For decades, cookies have been tracking us all on the internets. These little seemingly innocuous pieces of code uniquely identify your browser and allow those product ads to follow you from website to website after you search for an item on another website.

Ever have ad after ad for some exotic destination popup repeatedly for weeks after doing a search about that exotic location? Ever had ad after ad for just about anything you might have looked at seemingly follow you across the world wide web from website to website, you can thank cookies. However, as many of us seek to regain some modicum of privacy, the third-party cookie has become a sore spot with many consumers.

Yes, third-party cookies have been great for marketers who use them. Do you have a Facebook pixel installed on your website? That is a third-party cookie, that allows Facebook to follow visitors to your website long past their stay on your website and deliver ads to them based on the websites they visit and the products they search. That may very well be your eyewear or eyewear from anyone advertising with Facebook in your region. Third-party cookies may seem harmless, but they essentially see everything you do online, where you go, what you look at, what you search, what you buy, and so on.

Apple and Facebook are battling right now over Facebook’s data-gathering capabilities to deliver the most customized advertising possible. That all sounds good in theory, but how much of what you do and what you buy do you want shared with anyone and everyone? Apple in a pending iOS update will make every app disclose what information they collect about you and allow you to agree or reject some of that information from being shared.

For what it is worth, I cleaned this desktop of all cookies yesterday. The software I used deleted over 800 separate third-party cookies, that accumulated over a short two-week period. I say let’s leave cookies to the Cookie Monster.

Cookie Monster courtesy of Sesame Street

Google says it plans on stopping the tracking of individual’s web browsing by 2022 and will instead put users into what they are calling Federated Learning of Cohorts, of Floc. These ‘flocks” will be more generalized groups and the advertising will be targeted a bit more generalized than today. Before we give Google a welcomed round of applause, note that Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari browsers have already stopped supporting third-party cookies. Europe’s GDPR rules are moving to eliminate tracking cookies, so it may be that Google is moving to a new system before it is forced to. Googles says their new FLoC system will be at least 95% as effective as individual targeting, so we will all have to wait and see what information is gathered by the advertising giant.

Most of the changes taking place with third-party cookies are due to the EU’s data protection laws put in place back in 2018. GDRP stands for General Data Protection Regulation. Those rules require websites in Europe to gain your consent before issuing cookies to your browser. You no doubt, see cookie warning on most websites these days, including The Optical Journal. While the US has resisted similar legislation during the Trump years, California enacted its own version of online privacy in 2020 with the California Consumer Privacy Act that gives residents some say in data protection.

Will all these changes mean better privacy? Doubtful. Between your phone carrier, your internet service provider, the websites you visit, and social media you frequent, one is reminded of that line from Geroge Clooney’s Oceans Eleven, “You of all people should know Terry, in your hotel, there’s always someone watching.”

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