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Privacy Policy

Dateline: 27 January 2000 Early Edition
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Who's Watching Your Wallet?
A lot of Web sites use cookies to store a user's preferences or help them analyse the passage of traffic through their pages. Indeed -- cookies are an extremely valuable and useful part of Web-browser technology.

Unfortunately there has been much misinformation spread by the ill-informed and ignorant about the privacy implications of cookies. There are still those who are adamant that malicious sites can harvest your credit card numbers and login IDs through the (ab)use of the cookies facility. Apart from a very few well documented and rapidly fixed bugs, this has never been the case.

Most modern browsers allow you to disable cookies -- and some people feel so insecure that they use this function. Personally I've always left my cookies enabled because I know the truth about exactly what kind of threat they pose to my privacy -- but I have just changed my mind.

Why? What has caused me to reverse my thinking on cookies? Has a major security hole been uncovered? Am I becoming paranoid in my old age?

No... none of the above (well maybe I'm getting slightly paranoid).

The real reason is that DoubleClick, one of the Internet's largest advertising agencies and ad-servers have decided that they're going to start matching people's names with their travels on the Web.

DoubleClick has always handed out cookies to people who visit sites carrying its ad banners -- but that's been of little concern because it doesn't allow them to identify who you are. Although they can track a particular user as they visit various DoubleClick-enabled sites, that user's identity has (to date) remained unknown to them. You become just another Mr or Ms "X".

However, DoubleClick have now changed their strategy and, according to reports published today, will be doing their best to match up those cookies with actual names and addresses. This means that not only will they know where you've been but also who you are.

How will they make this connection between your cookie and your name?

If you fill out a form on a participating site -- and this includes purchasing products over the Web, it appears that this information will, in some cases, be shared with Double Click.

In effect we have a Net-based Fly-Buys system -- except that YOU aren't getting anything in return for providing this valuable information about your surfing and shopping habits.

No doubt, once this information is correlated, your name and email address will be sold to any direct marketing company that wants to buy it -- and we all know that this will mean endless streams of junk-email in your mailbox.

So... it's cookies off for me -- how about you?

As a footnote -- this kind of data collection and sharing is likely to be illegal under New Zealand's privacy laws. I wonder if this leaves DoubleClick's New Zealand agents open to prosecution and if they'll be forced to disable this facility on all ads served up to NZ sites? Yet further proof that it's time for legislators to catch up with the Internet.


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