Cookies may be useful but aren’t private

Third party cookies are able to track your information and sell it. It’s time to put limits on this.

Jared Rogers-Martin

Cookies are ominous. The confectioner’s sugary sweets might tack on unwanted calories to the unsuspecting snacker, but a digital third-party cookie covertly tracks information and inconspicuously sells the data about your browsing habits and viewing history to the highest-bidding advertiser. These transactions tick to completion in the milliseconds it takes to load a webpage.

If you’ve ever noticed how advertisements on social media sites eerily align with topics you just Googled, then you’ve dealt with these digital cookie monsters.

The information cookies collect on your habits gets used to construct a digital profile of your IP address. Big-data companies harvest these profiles and sell them to businesses looking to buy demographic data to create marketing profiles.

Few of us have any real secrets to hide, and some of us might even like the fact that advertisements cater to our specific tastes and buying habits.

But say, for instance, that you look up, “Am I depressed?” and a cookie on the self-help website you visited pings that information back to a server at a big-data collector. Suddenly, ads for medications and therapists appear on the side of your screen.

These ads mesh with the other information collected about your digital profile, and then they’re sold to companies across the country. I have no problem with businesses knowing that I prefer Nike Air Force Ones to Reebok Pumps, but I’d like to keep some aspects of my personal life to myself.

Currently, no law or regulatory body exists to monitor how your Internet data is used. Companies like Oracle and the Blu Kai registry adhere to an ethical code established by a nonprofit group, the Network Advertising Initiative, but that code is only regulated by self-monitoring.

Blu Kai values transparency and will let you see the data it collects about you. It also allows you to opt out of its data collections, but not all big-data collectors offer that ability.

One of those big-data entities that you can’t opt out from is the United States government. In Minnesota, government data collectors do not require a warrant to sift through your emails, location settings or browsing history. If government officials are able to access that information, then they can look at it and keep it on record. Thir

Policy groups are starting to catch on to the big-data phenomenon, as they should. Recently the “My Life, My Data” movement challenged the Minnesota Legislature to amend the state constitution to include the words “electronic communications and data” in the unlawful search and seizure clause in Section 10.

The conversations that the “My Life, My Data” movement presents are extremely relevant in shaping legal precedents that will dictate the future of the Internet. But socially, it’s up to consumers to decide what information we’re willing to share with businesses and to hold them accountable for the ethical distribution of people’s private lives.