Have a Cookie – no really – I Insist

Sat, Dec 17, 2005

Articles, Strategy + Marketing

If you’re like me, there are times when you enjoy a greeting as you enter a store. No – not Wal-Mart, that’s too much like the bu-by of airplane egress, I’m talking about an always remember your name type welcoming. Hearing “hey Bruce” when I visit Harry’s Guitar shop makes me a loyal boy; using Web lingo, it’s sticky. After a couple visits, a guitar superstore just feels wrong.

On the other hand, being stalked by a vacuum cleaner salesman, on a day of appliance shopping is beyond creepy. “I know you were at Sears, what’s up with that? Here, let me show you that Electrolux. No? How ‘bout some bags?” We’d all be quick to dial 911.

It’s not peculiar to take in stride a deluge of mailbox catalogs exclusive to credit card use. Buy a sweater at the Gap, use your VISA card, and get 10 sweater catalogs at Christmas. Our purchasing habits have been on sale for decades. Consumers pay for their products with more than money; information is valuable to marketers.

Grocery stores are info-farming experts with their preferred buyer cards. Card carriers are privileged with discounts. When we buy a can of pet food, kitty litter coupons are thrust at us by checkout machines. Ever wonder what they do with all that data collected about what we buy, when, and how much we paid? Information drives strategy decisions.

Most folks free of criminal records don’t avoid stores with surveillance cameras. Why then might we suffer paranoia when recognized upon entering a website? Perhaps it’s the operational transparency or the mystery of on-line information harvesting. We’ve also heard of abuses and don’t want to be fooled. All reasonable if you ask me. There is a benefit-privacy conflict in business [and life] but it just seems more obvious on the web.

Like Oreos, your basic Internet cookie is harmless. Also like a chocolate cream filled wafer, some people like them and some don’t. Similarly, you are free to decide if you want them hanging around. Internet cookies do no more than give you a recognizable face as you enter a Web site. On-line businesses want to say hello and tailor their offerings just like conventional businesses. Without the means to recognize a returning customer, the relationship remains sterile.

If you want to remain anonymous, routinely delete cookies by using your browser tools, but keep in mind, your access to “wish lists” and personal preferences on favorite sites will be deleted too.

Cookies are very small text files dropped in a folder on your computer. An advanced cookie using merchant, like Amazon, may install this much information:

session-id-time 9543457356587242000 amazon.com/
session-id 002-4135465256-7625846 amazon.com/
x-main eKQIfwnxfghsghsghVWAXh@Ih6Uo5H amazon.com/
ubid-main 077-9263437-96356869678786 amazon.com/

A less sophisticated cookie may looks like this:

WEBTRENDS_ID
68.213.146.9-2736511040.29684135::746E8219C9485E9986k6280C8C0BA551D
www.tiftmerritt.com/1536466274944768657564415052833629684134*

As you can see there is no personal information in the cookie. Also, since it’s not a program [executable file], it has no ability to gather any. As they say in the medical profession: it’s benign. However, it’s always a good idea to check a company’s privacy policy to be sure they aren’t planning to sell the information you volunteer.

Your basic cookie is recognized by the originator and no others; Amazon can’t read Eddie Bauer cookies and vice versa. Arriving at the Web site, your ID number is read and your historical information from their database is displayed. Site owners keep what you volunteer along with any action you take on the site; similar to a brick and mortar store. However, once cookies can be shared by groups, things get a little dicey, even sleazy.

Third party cookies like those from DoubleClick feel a little slippery to most people. DoubleClick capitalizes on the idea of a networked cookie database. While still anonymous, DoubleClick’s cookies can be read by all subscribing Web sites. When read, your cookie ID is sent to Double-Click. In turn, they make available all information they have on your behavior (or whomever uses your computer) through other DoubleClick enabled sites. If you buy stuff on-line there is a very good chance you’ll be greeted with banner ads for similar stuff. As you are recognized, DoubleClick (and companies like them) deliver ads that contain messages they hope will interest you; better targeting through technology.

Often referred to as Behavioral Marketing, this is still harmless even though privacy violation is in question. DoubleClick allows you to opt out by going to where they deposit a cookie on your machine that blocks their service. The trick is that most people have no idea this process is taking place – using Web lingo: it’s transparent. Opting out won’t stop ads, but it will stop ads that target your behavior.

Cookies are different from adware and spyware. The latter two are programs [executable files] not simply text. Adware is additional code attached to software that causes banners or pop-ups to display when running the program; adware delivers ads. Shareware (free software available for download) is often financed using adware.

Spyware – on the other hand – collects and distributes information without your knowledge. It also uses your internet connection and other computer resources without your permission. The good news: There are a few good remedies out there. A cocktail of Sypbot and Yahoo makes me feel fairly clean.

Spybot Search and Destroy

Yahoo Toolbar

Probably the best suggestion is to maintain a level head. Our privacy is important but in real life we aren’t free from those stalking vacuum cleaner sales people. I personally don’t mind a DoubleClick style cookie but shutter at the possibility of tracking software counting my keystrokes.

Carry a Branded Department Store bag with you in the mall and everyone knows where you’ve been. Keep it anonymous and I’m fine. Yet, transparency is still an issue. Trust – how much can there be with new technology arriving faster than we can think. Make yourself comfortable, participate at your own speed, and take steps to avoid dialing 911.

cookie, website

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