Whew! Walt Mossberg pulled no punches in his Personal Technology Column this morning. He categorically opines that cookies are spyware. First his definition:
Spyware -- and a related category called adware -- is computer code placed on a user's computer without his or her permission and without notification, or with notification so obscure it hardly merits the term. Once installed, spyware and adware alter the PC's behavior to suit the interests of outside parties rather than those of the owner or user.
He does a good job of describing tracking cookies and concludes:
To me, tracking cookies clearly meet the obvious definition of spyware.
I am not paranoid about tracking cookies and do not view them as an invasion of privacy but in his column I think Mossberg gets to the heart of the matter. The cookie ultimately benefits the marketing company that is trying to report stats on banner ads. It really has minimal benefit for the end user. I think rather than concerted campaigns to get anti-spyware vendors and browser companies to stop removing or blocking cookies that the advertisers and advertising supported content sites should get together with the cookie companies and agree to some equivalent metrics that can be used to measure unique visitors. And it would be well to do this before their business models completely crumble.