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The Way the Cookie Crumbles

by Glen Emerson Morris

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In terms of the Internet a MagicCookie, or cookie for short, is a very small text file which can be offered by a Web server to Internet browsers like Netscape and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Cookies are read by the Web server every time the user logs on, acting like mini-preferences files which tell Web server certain things about the user.

Cookies are extremely important to advertisers because they solve one of the oldest problems advertisers have with media; how to overcome inefficient market targeting. The cookie is the first advertising technology that allows customized market targeting, and it does it in real time. Cookies allow advertisers to tailor ads displayed on their Website to individual consumers. The days of spending megabucks to run bra ads in front of audiences half full of men are over, at least on the Internet.

Many advertisers are already using cookies to custom program their ads to consumers. The first time a consumer logs on to the advertiser's Website they're asked a few basic questions, like their sex and age. If the consumer provides them, these choices are stored in the consumers MagicCookie file so the advertiser's server knows to display ads based on those choices.

One company, DoubleClick, is offering a service which tracks which ads a consumers sees on variety of Websites, allowing DoubleClick to rotate the ads a consumer sees on each site. This service provides major Internet advertisers, like General Motors, with the ability to prevent consumers from getting burned out on seeing the same ad over and over on dozens of Websites.

Unfortunately for advertisers, cookie technology is only getting a mixed acceptance on the Internet, with many consumers rejecting the technology over privacy issues. Cookies can be used to track where a user goes on the Internet, and many consumers would rather keep that information to themselves.

Microsoft may have crossed the line with its 4.0 version of Internet Explorer. The Website MacOS Rumors reported a feature of Internet Explorer that actually keeps a log of every Web page the user goes to, and uploads it to Web servers on request. If this is true, it may compromise the acceptance of Internet Explorer by the public, and certainly with the computer literate set.

Privacy is becoming a big issue with consumers, and especially so on the Internet. The problem advertisers face by using any technology that the public might find annoying is that somewhere out there someone is smart enough to program a way to defeat the technology. The more annoyed they are, the more likely they are to do it.

Several software applications have been written for consumers to manage or simply eliminate cookies. These two applications are a very good example of consumer developed counter technology, and living proof that consumers ultimately control this media, not advertisers.

The more popular of the two, the Cookie Monster, is an application which automatically deletes the MagicCookie file every time the computer is turned on. Consumers who use the Cookie Monster are willing to accept cookies without a second thought because they know the cookies will be gone the next time they boot their computer. When they log on to the advertisers Website next time, the server will see them as first time users.

The Cookie Cutter is similar to the Cookie Monster, but with more options. It lets the consumer create lists of which cookies to keep and which to delete. This way a user can save the cookies that store passwords to restricted Websites, but still automatically delete any other cookies picked up on the Net.

To further complicate the issue, both Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers can be set to reject cookies automatically. Netscape can also be set to warn users whenever a cookie is offered, allowing the user to read a message from the advertiser about what the cookie is, and how long it will last. Some Internet advertisers are programming their Web servers to ask repeatedly if the user rejects the cookie. This is a bad idea, since it's likely users will switch to rejecting all cookies automatically.

Currently, both Netscape and Internet Explorer are set to accept cookies by default. Most Internet surfers don't know what cookies are, or that they have the option to reject them in the preferences menu, but it is only a matter of time before they learn. News travels fast on the Internet.

Cookies can be very useful to advertisers, but they are a sensitive issue with consumers, and must be used with restraint and sensitivity to work long term. Consumers have the ability to reject cookie technology completely, and they just may if it becomes annoying to them.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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