I'd like to show you an ad. It's the latest for Microsoft Internet Explorer, and it tries to persuade us that Microsoft is on the side of consumers and their privacy concerns:
Do you see what they did there? Tugged at the heartstrings with an obvious human truth: we all have things we love to share, but we all have things we don't want people to know about us. And that, says the ad, is why Internet Explorer comes with 'Do Not Track' switched on by default, meaning that websites can't set cookies that remember users' online behaviours and preferences.
Firstly, Do Not Track has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of personal information that the ad talks about. That's the kind of information you pick up by snooping on people's personally identifiable accounts or by listening to what they say on Twitter.
If you come to a website that sets a tracking cookie, here's what that cookie can do:
- Record which pages you visit
- Record what events you take (e.g. buying, adding to basket)
- Remember your machine if it visits the site again
- Serve up recommendations (like Amazon does) about things you may find interesting or valuable
And here's what it can't do:
- Tell who you are
- Tie your behaviours back to your identity
- Tell anyone anything about you as a person
- Harm your reputation in any way
Unless of course you choose to share your identity with it by creating an account, giving your personal details and logging in. In that case, the cookie is irrelevant as all your behaviours are logged against your account, just as they would be if you were a registered customer of an old-fashioned mail order business.
But that's not the best thing about the ad. The best thing is that if you go to Internet Explorer's website and take a look at the source code, you'll see that it's running Google Analytics.
Let me say that again. Internet Explorer's website is running Google Analytics.
Which drops a cookie on your computer. To track your behaviours.
# Alex Steer (16/06/2013)