logo The Cookie Controversy - Lori Eichelberger M.L.I.S


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Advertisers and the Privacy Issue

It is not surprising that advertisers and marketers reacted defensively to proposed legislation that would limit the use of cookies on the Internet. RFC 2109 was a proposal set before the Internet Engineering Task Force which set forth guidelines for cookie use by websites. The document itself is highly technical in nature, and would have put tight controls on how cookies could be set and their information transferred. In addition to requiring notification of the user, RFC 2109 would determine circumstances under which cookies could be set, and what information they could contain. One item of particular concern to advertisers was Point 7.1 which stated
An origin server could create a Set-Cookie header to track the path of a user through the server. Users may object to this behavior as an intrusive accumulation of information, even if their identity is not evident... This state management specification therefore requires that a user agent give the user control over such a possible intrusion... (RFC 2109.7.1)
Advertisers' objections to this stipulation were based on their no longer being able to track browsers throughout a site, or through multiple websites served with banner advertising which originated from a central hub such as DoubleClick (Bruner, March 1997) and create their user profiles.

Much to the relief of the online advertising world, RFC 2109 was not supported by browser designers. Where the browser manufacturers had been asked to redesign their software to reject cookies automatically, Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer instead included options for users to reject cookies if they so chose (Bruner, May 1997). Browser default would still be set to accept cookies, since it was felt by the designers that "If we were to unilaterally disable this feature, existing content on the Web would no longer work." (ibid.) While privacy advocates may not care for this action on the part of the browser designers, it may become a moot point in the near future.

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