Thursday, March 07, 2013
This post was inspired by an Adobe survey stat that showed 16% of respondents thought that internet advertising was creepy. This is a world shared by fake people, fraudsters, thieves, con men, and of course you and me. To weed out the creepy, there are political movements in creating a standard for digital privacy, but at the same time still giving governments the ability to police the criminal element. Legislation in the U.S., Europe and Canada are going through the public debate process right now.

The advertising community wants as much online consumer behaviour data as possible, and would favour as much as they can get down to the last website viewed. This will enable them to better target a message to the reader—the marketing utopia. The way people are tracked online is through what is called a computer cookie. And no, you cannot eat this cookie.


Here is the definition of a computer cookie according to Wikipedia:

“A cookie, also known as an HTTP cookie, web cookie, or browser cookie, is usually a small piece of data sent from a website and stored in a user's web browser while a user is browsing a website. When the user browses the same website in the future, the data stored in the cookie can be retrieved by the website to notify the website of the user's previous activity.”

Current business practices have it that a cookie is automatically placed on your computer when you visit a site. In Europe, some websites will ask if it can put a cookie on your computer before you enter the site. The privacy issue at stake can be illustrated by this example: Say you are window shopping at a mall and somebody is following you around everywhere, seeing everything you are doing, and whenever they notice you stop at a store they come up and offer you a deal for that store. Wouldn’t you feel a little creeped out by this? This is what happens online all the time. 

The importance of permission-based business practices for email marketing programs has now filtered down to cookies on computers, tablets and smartphones. There are established rules of privacy in other areas like your banking, health care and phone call histories, where some are secret and others require a court order, and I assume the internet will get there too.

But, cookies play a valuable role for magazine publishers, enabling digital mags and online portals to authenticate a subscriber through various wall models. This is how newspapers set up free trial periods for their content. Computer readers on all devices have the ability to not accept cookies as part of the device setup, but you will then not have access to social media sites that require cookies.

Historically, once magazine publishers obtained a customer’s name they had the right to do with it as they pleased for business purposes, but in today’s political environment stricter rules might prevail for online. Hopefully, common sense will win out, and privacy issues get resolved with some old-fashioned good manners reigning online.

About Me
Martin Seto

Martin Seto is the producer of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPAS) with 30 years of life expereince in technology, advertising, media and creative exploration. He can be reached at marty(dot)seto(at) or 416-907-6562, and on LinkedIn.

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Lorene Shyba says:
Full of terrific information, Thanks!...
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