Contrary to Popular Belief, Cookies Are Good for You! (On the Internet)

ARA Conten

(ARA) - Judging from the rising number of computer viruses, online phishing scams and incidents of Web-based identity theft, it is little wonder that consumers are growing increasingly frightened of becoming a victim on the Internet. This widespread fear among consumers has caused many Web users to become wary of even the most trusted Web sites they visit, as well as some of the basic technologies that for years have served to enhance the Web experience. In fact, one of the clear victims of this wave of fear has been the much-maligned Internet cookie.

Cookies are small elements of data that Web sites store on visitors' Web browsers in order to provide them with a more tailored user experience. Cookies recognize a user's Internet browsing behavior and can be used to display information in response to this behavior, as well as remember Web site passwords and preferences, and personalize specific pages, content, banner ads, and promotions that appear on the site. Perhaps most importantly to an Internet user, cookies are used by advertisers to limit the number of times that a particular user sees the same ad creative, and by Web publishers to limit the number of pop-up or pop-under ads that a user receives per day.

For example, cookies can reduce the chance that a 25-year-old single male is served an ad for diapers when he goes to his favorite sports site. Web sites also use cookies to better understand Internet traffic patterns so they can enhance the user experience and provide more relevant information about their products and the content available on their site.

Cookies are not dangerous or malicious, but widespread confusion has lead many consumers to view them as just that. In fact, a survey conducted in early 2005 by JupiterResearch found as much as 39 percent of U.S. Web surfers delete cookies from their computers at least once a month, with 17 percent erasing cookies once a week and 10 percent cleaning them out daily.

Many in the online advertising industry believe the reason so many consumers are taking precious time to eradicate cookies from their system is simply misinformation or lack of understanding. In fact, marketers at a recent Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) conference in New York identified consumer education as central to proactively addressing the issue of cookie deletion.

"The popular misconceptions consumers have about cookies have lead them to be unfairly associated with spyware and other malicious software," explains David J. Moore, chairman and CEO of 24/7 Real Media, an Internet marketing pioneer and a leading provider of global online advertising services.

"The average consumer doesn't understand the purpose and benefits of cookies, nor do they grasp the basic limitations of the information they can provide, so they mistakenly label cookies as something that is bad," he adds. "The bottom line is that cookies play an important role in creating a positive Internet experience, and the online advertising industry must to do a better job of educating consumers that cookies are good for you online."

According to Moore, here are some of the most prevalent myths about cookies, followed by the real facts:

Myth #1: Cookies, like worms and viruses, are harmful to Web users and their computers.

Fact: Cookies are not harmful. Unlike worms and viruses, cookies cannot damage your computer or the data saved on your hard drive. They are simply tiny text files, placed on a computer by a Web server and are only readable by the same server that placed them.

Myth #2: Cookies are another form of spyware bent on stealing sensitive personal information and invading a Web user's privacy.

Fact: Cookies only contain basic information such as a user's browser type and IP address, or information that the user has voluntarily supplied, such as a stored passwords or preferences to customize a favorite site. Unlike spyware or computer viruses, cookies cannot be configured to do anything more than track anonymous Web user behavior.

Myth #3: Disabling or deleting cookies results in a safer, more enjoyable Web experience.

Fact: This is not true in fact, cookies are what make the Web a more enjoyable, personalized experience. Without cookies, Internet users would have to remember all the passwords to all the different sites they visit. They would not be able to receive customized content, such as news, stock prices, sports scores or weather, and online shopping would be very cumbersome if not impossible! Instead, consumers would receive irrelevant information and content, such as advertising that fails to correspond with their personal interests and needs. In addition, disabling or deleting cookies does not make Web users safer from viruses or other similar online threats.

Myth #4: Cookies only serve the interests of online advertisers.

Fact: Cookies are beneficial to all Internet users advertisers, online content providers and consumers but in different ways. Like TV and radio, much of the Internet is supported by advertising. To keep content on the Web free for consumers, online publishers need to generate advertising revenue, and advertisers need to reach the right audience. Cookies help to do this more effectively while making sure that consumers are not getting bombarded with irrelevant or duplicative ads, content or promotions that can diminish the quality and value of the Web surfing experience.

"Consumers need to understand that retaining cookies will provide them the optimum online experience and foster the continued improvement and positive evolution on the Web," adds Moore. "As online publishers' revenues increase, so will the quality and quantity of the site content they make available to consumers. The increased retention of cookies will also help ensure that the sites people visit remain free of subscription charges something most consumers will agree is good for everyone on the Web."

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2005 All rights reserved
Courtesy of ARA Content

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