Law Office Computing
Would You Like a Cookie, Little Boy?
When I was a boy my mama always reminded me to never take a cookie from a stranger. I
always thought that was good advice and I handed it on to my children. I now hand it on to you.
The cookies I'm talking about are cookies that come over the internet to your computer,
sometimes from places unknown. Over the last few months I have noticed that many of the
places I go to on the World Wide Web will periodically tell me that they would like to send me a
cookie. The cookies they are talking about are small files that the sender wishes to store on my
computer. The purpose of cookies is to allow the sender to maintain basic information on
particular users. Cookies can also be used to track the kind of information that you seek and use
when you are moving around in a particular site. A cookie tells them which computer you are
using as well as the software and hardware you are using and may even give your e-mail address
and other information you did not intend to circulate to others. To the extent that you have given
information such as your home address, your telephone number or your mother's maiden name to
somebody over the internet there is always the possibility that the cookies that are stored on your
computer may contain that information and thus convey it unintended persons. Basically what
the cookie does is to allow those who have placed cookies on your machine to engage in secret
surveillance of your computer habits and to identify you as a further target for their
machinations.. Now you may say that those who venture outside their computer know they are
taking some risk. But, you don't even have to be out on the Web to get a cookie. If a cookie
"distributor" has your modem phone number it can call you in the night and put a cookie on your
machine without your knowledge or consent. These "cookies" are to my mind a very dangerous
development for those who cherish their privacy
Cookies do perform useful functions. That is part of the reason why there are so many of them
now popping up on your computer screen. For example, a cookie may track your password so
you don't have to type it every time you visit a site. The cookie tells the site computer who you
are and they recognize you just like your are recognized in a neighborhood store. Of course, you
may not want to be recognized where you are on the internet, but if the cookie is on your
computer, your computer will tell the cookie's computer about your travels on the internet.
your browsing habits at a particular site. One of the biggest users of cookies is an advertising
preferences are. DoubleClick even offers to their corporate clients a system that tailors particular
advertising to a particular users. DoubleClick doesn't see anything wrong with secretly tracking
your usage and tailoring their advertising to you. They think it is good for you when they claim
"Users win too - they see only the messages that are relevant to their user profile". Tell that to the
Now if all of this is as bothersome to you as it is to me, there are several thing that you can do to
deal with the cookie problem. One of them is to make sure that your browser, whether it is
Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, are configured in a way that will let you
know when you are getting a cookie. The notification selection tells you who the cookie is
supposedly from and when it will expire. It also provides you with the option of not accepting
The problem is that the attractive information retrieval capability of cookies has made them suddenly very popular and if you have the automatic cookie notification system on, your browsing of a site may be interrupted by a large number of cookies that are being offered to you. I have recently had a bit of a go-around with the Wall Street Journal Interactive edition because they use so many cookies it becomes very difficult to read the site. Moreover, recently they refused to allow me to continue to use the site if I refused to accept their proffered cookies. In other words, the Wall Street Journal takes the position that they have an absolute right to place cookies on your machine to retrieve information that is of benefit to them and to their cohort DoubleClick, the aforementioned advertising broker. When I wrote to the Wall Street Journal about the problem I received first a form letter extolling the virtues of cookies and dismissing my concerns as the foolish ravings of the town idiot. I responded promptly, and perhaps a little more strongly than I should have. I got back a somewhat arrogant and very condescending message from the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition Webmaster explaining to me the error of my ways and detailing the many benefits that the Wall Street Journal was imposing upon my already paid-for usage of the website. The Webmaster was totally unconcerned by the fact that I was being forced to supply information to an advertising broker who was using the Wall Street Journal's website for it's purposes. I pointed out to Herr Webmeister that I paid the Wall Street Journal to receive information not to force me to give them information. "I don't want your cookies", I said. "My mama told me just say no and that is what I'm saying." But the Wall Street Journal does not allow you to just say no. They have decided that cookies are good for me and the rest of their users and, by golly, we take them or we get out. That's the deal. Period.
End of discussion. You are out.
I am paying a price for having an attitude, however. I cannot use the Wall Street Journal
Interactive Edition unless I am willing to accept the cookies, and since I'm not willing to accept
the cookies, I guess I don't get to use the Interactive version of the Journal. Fortunately the Wall
Street Journal is published in text form on other places to which I have online access. I have had
the paper version delivered to my door for many years. I have plenty of fodder for my outrage
machine without having to take a cookie from Herr Webmeister or his consort DoubleClick. The
Wall Street Journal is one of my primary sources of information about a variety of things,
however, and I cannot help but note the inconsistency between their ardently libertarian editorial
posture and the totalitarian arrogance of their Webmeister and his minions.
"Just Say No" Has Consequences
Software is becoming available that will intercept and reject the cookies that are sent to your machine. If you use that software, however, it may mean that there will be some websites that you will not have access to and others will, as I was told, slow to a crawl like the Wall Street Journal. But that is your choice, not mine. As for me, I intend to continue to take my mother's advice and every time the cookie notification screen pops up on my computer, I say no. When I turn on my monitor in the morning and see that some cookie sneak has tried to put a cookie on my machine in the middle of the night, I reject it with a conclusive and sure click of the mouse. Indeed, I suggest that if everybody started to just say no to cookies that we might be able to convince those who believe that they own the World Wide Web that cookies are a bad deal because we stay away from sites that use them. We do have the choice to say NO and if we did we would make a small contribution to making the world safe for computing and get writ large in the Book of Life. But that's probably just a pipe dream, isn't it?