A study in April 2001 has found that only about 7 out of 1,000 Internet surfers reject cookies, those little data files that Web sites store on PCs to record user preferences and track their activities.
Does such a low rejection rate mean that setting a browser to disable cookies is too difficult, or that 99.3 percent of Internet users don’t care that their personal information is being passed around the World Wide Web?
The answer to that question, quite predictably, depends on who’s being asked.
Web site audience analysis service Web Side Story found in a review of more than 1 billion page views that cookies were disabled just .68 percent of the time. Web Side Story takes that statistic to mean that consumers are not worried about cookies.
Such a minute number of Internet users disabling the data files suggests to Web Side Story chief privacy officer Randy Broberg that there’s scant concern about cookies, even if most surfers know little or nothing about them.
“Clearly some people might reject cookies if they knew more about it,” said Randy Broberg, general counsel and chief privacy officer for Web Side Story. “I would have thought (the findings) would have been much higher. It sounds like there’s not quite the uproar” over cookies that is widely believed.
“That’s not valid,” said privacy advocate Jason Catlett, president and founder of Junkbusters.com. “Even if we take their findings at face value, there’s still the fact that when cookies are explained to (computer users), they do not like them.”
Surfers’ options to cut out cookies are limited on browers, especially Microsoft Explorer, Catlett said. And cookies are required as a “condition of entry” to some Web sites, he added.
Richard Smith, chief technology officer of the Privacy Foundation, said he was not surprised by the results. “You can’t surf without cookies,” he said. “Ask anybody who tries to shut off cookies.”
The Web Side Story findings seem out of step with what was uncovered in a widely cited Pew Internet & American Life Project study released last summer.
Pew found that 84 percent of Internet users in the United States are concerned about businesses and strangers getting their personal data online, but 56 percent did not know about cookies.
More notably, 10 percent said they took steps to block cookies from their PCs, Pew found.
But, Broberg said, Web Side Story’s study was based on statistics and was not an opinion poll.
Andrew Cervantes, chief operating officer of the Privacy Foundation, said computer users find the process of blocking cookies “too much of a hassle.”
Microsoft touts its new Explorer 6 browser as having a more flexible cookie management system that gives users more control over their personal information.
Catlett ripped Microsoft for designing the browser to “silently” accept third-party cookies for companies that claim to offer an opt-out from tracking. “The obvious absurdity of this situation is that the average user is unaware of the cookies and the tracking, and would not know where to opt out,” Catlett said in a letter to Microsoft last week. “Microsoft’s backdown on third-party cookies is deplorable.”
The billion page views sampled came from the 50 most-visited Web sites in its HitBox Enterprises network of 150,000 sites, said Broberg.
Web Side Story:
The Privacy Foundation: