What is a cookie profiling?
Cookie profiling, also called web profiling, is the use of persistent or permanent cookies to track a user’s overall activity online. This tracking does not just happen when you are on a particular site, but it occurs the whole time you are browsing. This kind of profiling activity is often done by marketers who buy advertising rights on thousands of popular websites in order to collect and collate cookie information and create a single “profile” of a user. Internet advertising, as it is called, targets potential customers based on the manner they browse the Internet. This is the very reason why most websites flash banner ads on their pages. This matter may not be a big deal for some, but others take their privacy seriously and are uneasy about being “followed around” and profiled.
What Do Cookies Do?
Cookies work as a tagging mechanism to identify your computer out of the millions of users accessing the Internet. The information contained in a cookie is used to track a user’s activity when visiting pages online. This tracking is done anonymously, but the user needs to give permission before a site can store a cookie on the machine. Most web browsers nowadays allow users to disable cookies permanently or delete them upon exit.
Why do cookie profiling?
Cookie profiling is the only way for marketers to target potential customers and obtain a possible product purchase from them. By knowing a user’s browsing habits, including sites visited, age, marital status, and political and religious affiliations, they can show him or her advertisements that are appealing, advertisements that he or she will care to patronize. This is a certain way for marketers to increase their profit by widening their customer base.
Cookies and Social Networks
In these times when the Internet has made data collection almost at your fingertips, privacy violations have been hurled at social networking sites, particularly Facebook. Facebook is the biggest website under the said category, and it competes against Google as the most visited site. It has more or less 800 million users from around the world, but that does not keep it invulnerable from the piercing eyes of online-privacy-concerned entities. Late in November 2011, the European Commission finally acted to stop the social networking site from undermining the safety and privacy of its users. In January 2011, a new EC Directive shall be released in order to formalize the banning of targeted advertising on Facebook.
Facebook, like any other website, utilizes cookies in order to monitor its users. But the problem is that it does not stop tracking after a user signs out of his or her account. Facebook actually uses two kinds of cookies; these two are inserted in your browser when you sign up, while only one of them is inserted when you land at the homepage and does not sign up. Additionally, it uses different parameters for logged-in users, logged-off members, and non-members.
Where does Facebook draw the line between privacy infringement and improving its service? Amidst the issues being thrown at Facebook, its representatives said that it does track users after logging out, but it is done for good reasons. Arturo Bejar, a Facebook engineer, clarified that the cookies that record information once a user logs out are for security and protection purposes. These cookies actually help identify phishers and spammers, detect people behind unauthorized logged-in attempts, disable registration for minors using false birthdate, distinguish shared computers in order to disable the “keep me logged in” option, and helps users access their hacked accounts.
Facebook denies that it uses logged-off cookies in order to sell the information it gathers to third parties. It adds that the cookies are there to personalize the use of the site, to improve the service, and to keep safety and protection at its highest possible level. Moreover, data gathered using plug-ins are anonymized and aggregated, so any of them do not point to specific users. Also, collected data older than 90 days are automatically deleted from the system.
As said, cookies are harmless if you allow trusted sites to use them, but you must reconsider allowing second-rate sites on saving your information. If you do not want being tracked, you can disable cookies on your browser permanently, or you can set it to delete temporary cookies when you exit. Also, you can use plug-ins or add-ons that block harmful cookies; there are also free services online that let you detect online trackers, know what they are for, and let you be in control.