Cookies may disappear, but privacy isn't coming back

Cookies may disappear, but privacy isn't coming back

Summary: Annoying commercial cookies might be on their way out, but it's all because Facebook, Google and Microsoft have better ways to track you.


Many of us hate cookies, those little bits of code left on our computers by Website advertisers. With them, companies and Web sites can track your every move across Web. Our Web browsers let us delete them, but we often forget to clean out our cookie crumb tracks over the Internet. There have been attempts, such as Do Not Track to bring a voluntary standard for online privacy to the Web, but it has come to almost nothing.

So what? Cookies aren't going to matter for much longer anyway.

Peeking Eye

Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are all developing new systems to track your online moves, which rely far less on cookies. Instead of simply dealing with cookies, people who value online privacy are going to have work around at least three new Web use tracking technologies.

Google appears to be switching to AdID, which is short for Anonymous identifier for advertising. While Google has declined to comment on what's what in AdID, it appears that every users of Google services, such as Gmail, Google Chat, and Google+, the Chrome Web browser, and the Android operating system would be assigned an unique ID number. This would enable Google to pull together data for advertisers on not just what users are doing on the Web, but what they're doing with any Google-related Internet service.

Officially, all that Google is saying, according to a Google spokesperson, is "We believe that technological enhancements can improve users’ security while ensuring the web remains economically viable. We and others have a number of concepts in this area, but they’re all at very early stages."

Facebook uses its own user-based cookie system, instead of relying on third-party cookies from ad networks. With it, Facebook knows anytime you visit a site that uses Facebook like buttons. The company then correlates this information that you've already given Facebook, along with data from data providers Acxiom, Datalogix and Epsilon, to paint a very complete picture of your online interests.

Facebook wants more though. The company is reported by the Wall Street Journal to be testing technologies that record "how long a user’s cursor hovers over a certain part of its website, or whether a user’s newsfeed is visible at a given moment on the screen of his or her mobile phone."

This data is then recorded in Hadoop-based big data databases. Once there, it used with your Facebook user data to provide marketers with the information they need to target you with their advertising.

Microsoft wants to replace cookies with unique IDs. Advertising ID was introduced in Windows 8.1 and its associated Windows Store Apps. According to Microsoft, "This ID is per-user, per-device; all of the apps for a single user on a device have the same advertising ID." In other words, with this advertisers can track you not merely when you're roaming the Web, but when you're using any Windows app that has this feature enabled. This is in addition to Microsoft tracking your local PC searches for Bing advertising in Windows 8.1.

If that creeps you out, Microsoft does make it easy to opt out of it. The company states "Customers can easily turn the advertising ID off and on during their Windows 8.1 device setup or anytime afterwards."

So why are all three Internet powers doing this? There are two major reasons. First, each method gives each company more data and control over the data to lure advertisers into using their systems. 

Second, Google and Microsoft's methods let them track you even when you're not using their browsers for your Internet activities. This is especially important to better monetize mobile apps, which frequently rely on Internet connections without the overt use of a Web browser.

And you thought the NSA spying was unnerving! Everyone is doing it. Welcome to the Web, circa 2013. Privacy? What privacy?

Related Stories:

Topics: Networking, Google, Microsoft, Privacy, Windows 8

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  • cookeis will not disappear

    Cookies are just text - plain or encripted - stored in memory or on the hard drive that is used to maintain state, perform authentication, support personalization and tracking (eg it helps the site to change the color of the links that you already visited).

    Screaming that it is somehow bad, or is going away is to display the lack of the knowledge in the subject of the discussion.
    • Cookies for good

      Exactly. Cookies can be abused by advertisers, but they maintain state for things like gmail and facebook, and provide sessionless authentication, which is important for scaling applications.
      Jeff Cogswell
  • No privacy in the web

    According to the news, NSA is spying the presidents of 35 countries including Germany.

    So if someone belives no one dare to spy him, he is too childish.
    • "Spying" on the web amounts mostly to anonymous information collection.

      "So if someone belives no one dare to spy him, he is too childish."

      And if that person is so full of themselves to think they are important enough to spy on, they are paranoid and delusional...

      That is, unless they really do have something to hide.

      You should use spell check...belives is not a word. Don't worry, spell check doesn't spy on you.
  • Not good for politicians

    Politicians won't like this. It takes the puffery and bluster out of their speeches about NSA. In fact, I'd think that the NSA is amateurish next to our hackers and commercial spies. It would probably be cheaper and less politically hazardous for NSA to just buy the information they need off the internet.
  • We don't have to give up on privacy

    You’re only able to say privacy is dead because most users aren’t computer literate enough to know what’s happening. But when they do find out, I’ve noticed that they get upset. We're in what I call the Jurassic Park stage of the Internet's evolution; we can do this, but should we?
  • Spying

    I know I'll get beaten for this, but I really don't care about NSA spying so long as it's for prevention of major crime only, and it’s WELL over seen in a OPEN in court.

    Private business spying is far worse (I don't care about it for advertizing only), it is unregulated, they build models about you with information that may or may not be correct, you can't appeal it, you have no control over it, and it is sold to your boss, your bank, your land lord, your insurance company, all of witch can and is used against you (not for you), behind your back. They don't have such a draconian right.
    • You're the criminal

      Yes, YOU. But don't feel too bad because I'm the criminal too. To the NSA, everyone is the criminal in this guilty until proven innocent domestic spying. So rest assured, you'll be protected against a major crime. As long as you're the one to commit it.
  • I like cookies.

    To compare Google or MS "spying" on internet users to the government spying on internet users is disingenuous. The government can imprison users for something such as "dangerous" speech, commercial companies can't.
    • That's a moot point...

      When the data that the NSA gathers comes from the internet service providers and the internet content providers, then, the source of the data is immaterial. What Google or Microsoft or Apple or any other web-site gather as far as data, is all "spied" on by the NSA, and so, those companies might as well be subsidiaries of the NSA. It's true that neither Google nor Microsoft can go after you for "dangerous" speech, but the NSA and other government agencies can go after you, if they are able to see or spy on your speech and internet habits.