Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Spyware Heats Up the Debate Over Cookies

New York Times: "Spyware Heats Up the Debate Over Cookies
INTERNET users are taking back control of their computers, and online marketers and publishers are not pleased with the results. But they don't quite know what to do about their conundrum - if it is a conundrum, since they can't even agree on that.
Until recently, Internet businesses could track their users freely, using what are known as cookies, tiny text files they embed on the user's hard drive. Now, with the proliferation of antispyware programs that can delete unwanted cookies, they often cannot tell who has been to their Web site before or what they have seen. And this erosion of control over a tool for gaining insight into consumer behavior has many of them fretting.
'Cookies are critical from a business perspective,' said Lorraine Ross, vice president for sales at USAToday.com. 'They help us do things like track our profitability per unique visitor, for instance. But if you don't know how many people are coming in, you don't really have a handle on whether your profitability is improving or not.'
It isn't necessarily just corporate America that is threatened by the anticookie fervor, Ms. Ross said - the deleters stand to suffer, too. For example, cookies help a computer limit how many times a user sees annoying ads like a floating, animated message. Such 'frequency caps,' to use industry parlance, are common among publishers. 'So cookies are a really good thing for managing the user's experience,' she said.
Last year, though, Ms. Ross said executives at the company debated how effective their frequency limits were, since a growing number of Internet users were "

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