Tracking cookies have gotten a lot of press recently. Back in May, the EU passed a directive instructing all websites to obtain informed consent before any cookie not strictly necessary for the functionality of a site. Just this month, a class action lawsuit was filed against online analytics company KISSMetrics and others for using undeletable tracking cookies.

Why exactly do people seem to care so much about an obscure technical detail? It all comes down to users’ ability to control their online privacy.

Most websites use cookies for two primary purposes:

  • They enable core website functions such as shopping carts and online logins
  • They enable marketers to track your behavior.

Everyone (even the EU) agrees that the first usage is completely legitimate and necessary–the internet simply doesn’t function without some types of cookies. Try disabling all cookies and then buying something on Amazon. It won’t work.

It’s the tracking cookies where opinions diverge. Some people are totally comfortable with marketers knowing more about them, because this leads to more targeted online experiences. If they have to sit through an ad on YouTube, they figure, it might as well be for something that they’re more likely to care about.

But some people don’t want companies tracking them for any reason. This is a laudable stance, usually argued from a perspective of basic human rights. The thinking goes that people should be able to conduct themselves in an online environment without being watched everywhere they go.

The truth is, there’s no right answer. The choice should be left up to the user, and it’s the responsibility of software vendors, website owners, and industry standards-setters to empower the user to make this choice. This is essentially what the EU is pushing for, although we (and much of the software industry) feel that their approach is rather heavy-handed.

At Argyle, we use cookies to help marketers track revenue generated from their social media efforts, in much the same way that Google Analytics uses cookies to track site visitor activity. When I started coding the primordial bits of Argyle two years ago, I made the commitment that we would always take the high road with our cookie policy. We give users control over their own privacy when they interact with Argyle Social. Here are the details, in recipe form.

Argyle’s Ethical Cookies

Just like your mother used to bake!

Makes two dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 industry standard text file, registered in your browser’s cookie list to ar.gy, and block-able or deletable with the click of a button.

Preparation Instructions

  • Set cookies to expire after a reasonable time window. No artificial preservatives, please!
  • Avoid using non-standard tracking technologies such as Flash, HTML5 local storage objects, or ETags.
  • Never include personally identifying information. Cookies with PII in them don’t keep well, and the baker will invariably get blamed.

And that that is how you bake an ethical cookie. Users get choice, marketers get valuable data from users that don’t mind giving it to them, and I can sleep soundly at night. Delicious.

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