Explorer Patch Causes Cookie Chaos

FRAMINGHAM (07/31/2000) - People have been talking about cookies so much lately, I thought perhaps that Pepperidge Farm was upgrading the Mint Milano.

Turns out it's Web browser cookies that are causing such a stir since Microsoft Corp. announced it would release a patch to Internet Explorer that would extend the already available options to accept or reject cookies. Microsoft would do this by differentiating between so-called first-party (the site you are visiting) and third-party (some site other than the one you're visiting) cookies. It's still unclear how much information will be presented to the user when Internet Explorer prompts to accept or reject a particular cookie.

Cookies go back a long way on the Web, where they were initially used to store personalization information and logon details. They can also be used to store what's called "state" information - details of your current session at a Web site. Advertisers and those who wish to track your progress on the Web soon learned that these same state cookies could be used to create a profile of the user, and this is what the privacy advocates are upset about.

Today, cookies used for personalization can be considered yesterday's technology. It's far better to use directory services to maintain personalization features, thereby letting the user connect to the site from any computer and still have the same personalized experience. Cookies, because they're stored at the user site, don't let you move between computers and maintain the same personalization.

Logon information is also best kept out of a cookie because anyone using the computer that holds the cookie would be granted automatic access to accounts on the Web site. Better to store that information within a corporate directory, or a third-party site where the information is secure and available from any platform.

It doesn't leave a whole lot for cookies to do that could be considered beneficial to users, does it?

There is still the state issue, though. Using cookies to keep track of what's happening in your current session on a Web site is still very useful - at least until some other method can be found.

But it's important these cookies be transient in nature, so they're removed once you leave the site they're attached to.

Because I can't think of a good use of persistent cookies, I'm hoping the new Internet Explorer patch will let me reject them outright while still allowing transient state-related cookies.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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