Cookie, Doh!

Dec 12, 2012 No Comments by

Prize for non-story of the week goes to The Sunday Times which seemed aghast that Amazon and Google were tracking punters mouse-clicking behaviour as they noodled around on the Internet.  Here’s how it works: you go onto Google and type, say, ‘adidas cycling clothing’ into the search box.  Top of the search results should then be the adidas website and you might then click on that link, go to the site and subsequently click on various products to see what they’re like, how much they cost etc.  All the while you’re doing this, every party in the chain – Google, adidas – are putting cookies on your hard drive.  These are teensy digital tracking devices that monitor what you’re up to so that advertisers can target your online browsing experience with ads for products you’ve previously shown some sort of interest in.  There are other types of cookie that do other things but fundamentally they’re all information gatherers.  There’s nothing particularly malicious about this activity, it’s legal and it’s been going on for years.  If having cookies on your computer bothers you, go to the menu bar at the top of your (Firefox) browser page, left-click on ‘tools’, choose ‘options’, then ‘privacy’ and there is a link to remove cookies.  The worst things cookies can be is irritating.  Tech Fogey did the adidas search above and, until we subsequently deleted all cookies, was stalked by display ads for adidas cycle clothing.  It didn’t matter which site we were on, if there was a display ad it was always the same one for adidas bike clothing and specifically the three items we’d looked at in depth.  It’s like being pestered by a beggar and could end up making a consumer less well-disposed to a brand than they were to begin with.  But then again, it might not.  Few people welcome the direct mail shots that pour through letterboxes every day but if they didn’t make economic sense, no company would send them.  The only difference between direct mail and cookie-generated ads is the online variety are much easier to avoid and much less random in terms of who gets sent which ads.  So please relax about cookies.  Have a nice sit down and cup of tea.  And a biscuit.