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facebook, cookies and privacy

Have A Cookie

Hello, and welcome to Website Users' Anonymous. Today we're going to be talking about cookies and the first thing I want you to know is that it's OK for you to say: 'I have no idea what the cookies I'm accepting are'. Now breathe; you're amongst friends. Time to care and share with the group.

Cookie Clutter

One of yesterday's conversations centered around cookies or, more specifically, a Customer's confessional unburdening that he didn't have a clue what cookies were and was riddled with angst over how to display the website cookie consent message.

He's far from unique

We all accept cookies but none of us have the foggiest idea what they [the website owner/operators] are doing with the information that the cookie allows them to gather. What we should all be equipped with is a loose idea about the kinds of data that cookies are a gateway to.

Take a look at the image at the head of this page. It's a screengrab I shot this morning - I logged into Facebook to appraise the status of a post I made a couple of days ago, sharing a link to the free Cyber Crime book I wrote and published. Before I openend my web browser's Data Manager to delete the cookies Facebook has served on my computer, I took a screen grab of what just one visit to Facebook looked like in terms of the cookies Facebook had served me.

So what is a cookie?

A cookie is just a long string of letters and numbers characters that is created to identify your web browser. Cookies aren't evil - cookies are very helpful and we can use cookies to 'maintain state' by remembering website preferences and secure login status etc. The website you're visiting asks you for your permission to store this long string of characters on your computer so that the website can recognise you on subsequent pages and visits. Click the button labeled: 'That's the way the cookie crumbles'; to read more and see what a coolie looks like.

You don't have to accept cookies in order to be able to use a website!

This website [http://live.omic.domain.name] does not serve a cookie on your web browser. However. I have placed some handy social media buttons and I do track how busy my website is using Google Analytics. I do not collect your data. But the Facebooks, the Twitters, the LinkedIns and the Googles of this world do. When you previously signed-into these social/search/business platforms you agreed to their terms and conditions. They know who you are. The cookies they place on your computer are detected by the scripts which execute when you visit a page that bears just one of their buttons, media or ads.

The socials know where you've been when you're not tweeting, searching, sharing or liking their shizzle. This data gets fed into their systems with a view of showing you ads (selling you tish) that are more likely to interest you.

So cookies are not the villains they're made out to be

The villains of the piece are the faceless organisations who serve the cookies on you and then, subsequently, mine you for data. Yet even if cookies did not exist are you aware that, with a little bit of JavaScript, I can retrieve the following information from you without gaining your consent? I can retrieve the name, code name, engine name and version of the web browser you're using. I can determine whether cookies are enabled in the web browser you're using. I can lift the IP address that you're connected to the Internet with and approximate a location for you. I can, with the appropriate privileges, extract your longitude and latitude and geolocate you. I can detect the language your browser uses i.e. English, Spanish etc. along with the user-agent header sent by the browser to the server. I can measure how big the display screen is that you're browsing with. None of this data is private, all of this data is open to those who request it, whether it's abused is out of your hands and in the hands of the faceless few.