Cookies Compared To TVs Tracking Usage

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The question of web sites using cookies has returned as spyware gets more focus from the public and lawmakers.

Legendary technology columnist Walt Mossberg claims in a recent column that if someone’s TV reported information back to a company to use or sell for advertising purposes, without that person’s knowledge, they would be outraged.

He further likens that situation to the continued usage and presence of web site cookies that silently perform the same function. Anti-spyware programs can detect and remove these cookies as needed.

But that TV outrage may not be as pronounced as one might think. TiVo, the digital video recording service, has been collecting viewing information for some time. Users of TiVo Basic cannot opt out of that collection, but Plus users can by making a phone call.

With less that two million members, far less than the number of people in the US who use the Internet, TiVo is not a ubiquitous presence. But like users of the Apple line of Macintosh computers, TiVo has a small niche of loyal followers.

TiVo doesn’t breakout the numbers on how many viewers have opted out of data collection. It doesn’t seem like a lot of them would have done so, anyway.

When digital TVs arrive in a few years, mandated by the end of analog broadcasts, components like TiVo and other “enhancements” will probably be available. Those services should note somewhere in the privacy policy that anonymous data is collected, and, yes, it may be shared with third parties.

And the public will yawn, and go back to watching Survivor.

Cookies have become a problem because of their misuse, not their use. Legitimate web sites use them to remember their returning users. Online versions of print newspapers, like Mr. Mossberg’s Wall Street Journal home, use cookies this way. A user with cookies enabled doesn’t have to login every time they visit.

Problem cookies have become so through inertia. Only when users begin widely rejecting third-party tracking cookies will they lose their appeal for advertisers. Until then, they will continue to be offered.

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.

Cookies Compared To TVs Tracking Usage
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