EU cookie laws could cause unwary firms to get their fingers burnt

Posted in: Legal & Security at 19/12/2011 16:54

Feeling bored and listless? Well, try this. In Firefox, open "preferences", click on the "privacy tab" and then click on the link that says "remove individual cookies". Up will pop a dialogue box labelled "cookies", which tells you that "the following cookies are stored in your computer". If you're an intensive user of the web, it will be a very long, scrolling list. On my laptop, for example, Amazon has deposited 29 cookies, YouTube nine and Google a whopping 53. (For instructions for how to inspect cookies in other browsers, see the NetLingo site.)

Cookies are small text files, typically of letters and numbers, downloaded on to a computer when its user accesses a website. The first thing to say about them is that they do not make for bedside reading. For example, one of my Amazon cookies begins with the phrase "%20s_dl%3D1%7C131818459" and goes on like that for four and a half lines. To Amazon's web server, however, this gibberish is riveting stuff because it provides useful information about how I use the site. Maybe it reveal details of my browsing history. Or provides information about what I bought recently. The point is that I can't tell how the cookie crumbles: that's something that only Amazon knows.

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