Zombie Cookies and Other Scary Things

By Darity Wesley, Privacy Gurus

“I have never known a greater miracle, or monster, than myself.”
-Michel Montaigne

October is the month we usually open our homes to scary things like ghosts, goblins and other monsters. What you may not know is that a part of your home and office could always be open to some really scary zombies that live in your computer. These are what have come be known as zombie cookies. Sounds tasty at first but just wait until you hear the full story. A zombie cookie is a bit like a poisoned apple from a privacy perspective.
A cookie on your computer is a small bit of text stored on your browser by a website. It is the technology that is used to add things to your online shopping cart while remembering what is already in there; stores website preferences like your webmail homepage layout, and remembers your log-in information. This is the overt benefit of accepting cookies. The darker side of cookies is that they can be used to track your web browsing habits without you ever knowing about it.

Getting rid of unwanted cookies used to be fairly easy by working with your Internet setting options. Most of us routinely delete cookies and then rest assured they are gone. We now have come to know that the undead are among us as “Zombie Cookies: Night of the Living Dead.” No matter how many times you delete them, these cookies re-spawn, most often in Adobe Flash players (which are installed in about 98% of personal computers), and deliver behavioral information from our computers back to, up until recently, companies like ESPN, MTV, HULU, ABC, MySpace, NBC, YouTube and many others. Click through to this article to find out more about these dreadfully unappetizing cookies and how to get rid of them.

What the data collected from browsing does is develop an anonymous profile of a person that doesn’t include a name but can offer up the valuable demographic information that is the lifeblood of successful target marketing like age, tastes and hobbies, and general location. The upside of this kind of information is that you end up with advertisements that are relevant to you, which offers you access to new places and things that you may have not otherwise known. According to the recent Wall Street Journal article, children are extensively tracked more than adults, which isn’t too surprising as it follows along with how advertisers have worked with the other media over the decades like radio, movies and television. It is just much more sophisticated and definitive in reaching an appreciative audience. The article linked above has some great tips in it to help you protect yourself and your children, so please take a look at it.

People are paying attention to this issue. There have been several lawsuits filed by privacy attorney Joseph Malley this summer, and the Federal Trade Commission has had behavioral advertising on their radar for a couple of years and will advocate to enforce consumers’ decisions to avoid online targeting. The online advertising community wants to self-regulate so it looks like there will be much discussion on this topic in the near future.

There is so much to be aware and alert about in the privacy world these days. We have many choices to make in regards to what is our public life and what we want to keep private. Make sure you make your choices with intention, not by default, so you don’t have to go running off to your mummy screaming.

Darity Wesley is CEO and Legal Counsel for Privacy Solutions, Inc. a San Diego based consulting firm. You can always reach Darity at Darity@PrivacyGurus.com

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