Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project

Privacy: Cookies

Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY

Derived From: - Know the Rules Use the Tools, Privacy in the Digital Age: A Resource for Internet Users, US Senate Judiciary Committee, p. 4-5 (n.d.)

"Many consumers have the mistaken impression that their conduct on the Internet is anonymous. This is often not the case. Many websites utilize various technologies, such as “cookies,” to collect information from consumers as they visit the website. “Cookies” are electronic tags that are placed on the hard drive of an individual user’s computer by Internet sites while the individual is on the Internet. Cookies can store information about the individual user, such as the user’s name, credit card numbers, websites visited, e-mail addresses, personal preferences or spending patterns. Although, this information generally is collected and stored (on the hard drive in a cookie file), and is used benignly to personalize a consumer’s visit to a website, it is often collected without the knowledge or consent of the user. Once a cookie is in place, the user’s Internet browser checks every time the user visits a particular site to see if there are any cookies for that site. If there are, the browser sends the cookie information to the site. The Cookie Central website provides a brief outline of the different ways companies utilize cookie technology:

See also Network Neutrality Deep Packet Inspection

"In addition to these widely used and often beneficial applications of cookie technology, other uses are conceivable and have been reported. For example, cookie technology could track and enable the sale of information regarding an individual’s Internet research on sensitive matters, such as a medical condition. The World Wide Web Consortium has explained:

Cookies cannot be used to “steal” information about you or your computer system. They can only be used to store information that you have provided at some point. To give a benign example, if you fill out a form giving your favorite color, a server can turn this information into a cookie and send it to your browser. The next time you contact the site, your browser will return the cookie, allowing the server to alter background color of its pages to suit your preferences.

However cookies can be used for more controversial purposes. Each access your browser makes to a website leaves some information about you behind, creating a gossamer trail across the Internet. Among the tidbits of data left along this trail are the name and IP address of your computer, the brand of browser you’re using, the operating system you’re running, the URL of the Web page you accessed, and the URL of the page you were last viewing. Without cookies, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to follow this trail systematically to learn much about your web browsing habits. They would have to reconstruct your path by correlating hundreds or thousands of individual server logs. With cookies, the situation changes considerably.


Caselaw / Enforcement



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