Topic 4 – Should this be the way the cookie crumbles?

Overview

Businesses using cookies has long been a controversial subject, unfortunately I’m not referring to the delicious snack but the text file that is downloaded to YOUR computer when you visit a website which uses them (European Commission). They are used so that the website then knows information about you and your preferences or previous searches, such as perhaps your chosen language or desired holiday location in order to prevent users from having to re enter information between separate pages or when re visiting the website (European Commission).

Sounds overwhelmingly useful perhaps? They are designed to make the online experience easier, not only in an online shopping environment but also on platforms such as social media where brands can utilise a users interests to create relevant targeted advertising, an optimal situation for both parties where brands waste no money and time on irrelevant marketing and consumers recieve better suited offers (Vinjamuri,  2011).

This storing of information, which previously could be against one’s knowledge until the EU legislation that was introduced in 2012, could be said to violate consumer privacy (Greenwald, 2014) by obtaining and distributing information about a user across their browsing experience. With 40% of the worlds population being internet users and that proportion expected to increase (Kelion, 2013) the amount of personal data stored will only increase, so will we see problems develop from this?

Drawbacks

One of the largest conspiracy theories from the use of cookies is regarding airlines and their alleged hiking of prices using cookies, as is explained by the summarised example of Patrick Collinson’s article (2010) below in figure 1.new-piktochart_843_e0e0e7a414e4d624742e183b98b6a91b421d6343

Figure 1: The summary of Patrick Collinson’s 2010 article “Beware the cookies: they can cost you money” 2010, produced by Arthur Boulding.

Dismissals

These claims have since been dispelled by numerous bodies, notably flight price comparison websites Skyscanner  and momondo who reject use of cookies in this manner, claiming it isn’t possible for them to do so as they are simply comparison sites, and “it would go against everything we stand for” (momondo) which would indicate they value customer privacy. The video below demonstrates how airlines are in fact using cookies responsibly according to more recent updates.

Video 1: Arthur Boulding 2016.

This cannot be said for all online based businesses though, for example Facebook have been in repeated trouble for altering the levels of personal information that are broadcast across it’s network. These changes can scare customers (Vinjamuri,  2011), with Greenwald (2014) suggesting that our privacy is universal and instinctive even if we feel we have nothing to hide and are not committing illegal acts.

 

Word Count 401

references:

BBC, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/guides/about-cookies accessed on 26/11/16.

Arthur Boulding 2016, Video created using PowToon, available at: https://www.powtoon.com/c/gljDolHu6I1/1/m accessed on: 27/11/16.

P Collinson, 2010, The Guardian, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/money/blog/2010/aug/07/computer-cookies-booking-online accessed on: 25/11/16.

European Commission, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/ipg/basics/legal/cookies/index_en.htm accessed on 25/11/16.

GREENWALD 2014, TED transcript available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/glenn_greenwald_why_privacy_matters/transcript?language=en accessed on 25/11/16.

Leo Kelion (2013), BBC news online, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24426739 accessed on: 25/11/16.

momondo, available at: http://www.momondo.co.uk/inspiration/do-cookies-increase-flight-prices/#0eYQfdoLOWpFaxby.97 accessed on 27/11/16.

H Morris, 2016, The Telegraph, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/advice/how-airlines-set-the-price-of-flight-tickets-and-how-to-beat-them/ accessed on: 26/11/16.

D Vinjamuri, Forbes, available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2011/11/03/ethics-and-the-5-deadly-sins-of-social-media/#48e3979d37ad accesed on 25/11/16.

Skyscanner, available at: https://www.skyscanner.net/news/tips/do-cookies-increase-flight-prices/ accessed on: 27/11/16.

N Trend, 2014, The Telegraph, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/advice/Do-airlines-raise-fares-while-you-search/ accessed on 25/11/16.

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “Topic 4 – Should this be the way the cookie crumbles?

  1. Hi!

    Really enjoyed your blog, it was informative and succinct.

    My own blog focused on behavioural targeting, which is a similar concept as cookies, where information is gathered about the internet user.

    Your example of airlines hiking prices using cookies caught my attention. I too, thought this was an urban myth and so from now on I shall do what Patrick did – delete my cookies!!

    But like you said, cookies can be beneficial. I wonder in this day and age, where everyone is so busy and trying to remember a password can be painful, if we would be willing to give up the cookies that make our lives easier…

    Like

    1. Hi there!

      Thanks for the comments. I read your blog too, really amazing info graphic about social media you created there, which website was that created on? There are indeed a lot of similarities between the topics covered in our blogs. I think your point about us automatically giving consent raises similar issues to those that caused the EU to introduce the above mentioned legislation regarding cookies. However I still always accept, should we be reading the terms and conditions more carefully?

      I have never personally noticed the hiking of prices on airline flights but am very intrigued to conduct my own investigation after researching it, I always thought price increases were due to more of the seats selling and the price therefore raising by demand.

      I feel like cookies will be around for a while, and I believe on the whole they are a force for good in terms of making our online experience easier.

      Like

  2. Hi Arthur.

    Back at it again with those witty openings! Have you started that comedy blog yet?

    I like your chosen topic. I’m not the biggest fan of the use of cookies myself, I believe its an invasion of privacy somewhat. You present both sides of the debate for cookie usage, but you didn’t express your own opinion. Do you believe the pros outweigh the cons?

    1 solution I’ve found is to use ‘incognito mode’ on the chrome browser – a tip I picked up when I googled how to find cheap flights bizarrely enough. I liked your info-graphic and video combination, they both very informative and a great way to get round that annoying 400 word limit.

    I enjoyed the comparison to how a high street shop wouldn’t raise their prices if you revisited their shop. It does raise an ethical concern, why should somebody be punished (effectively) by having their data involuntarily checked?

    Great post, It really made me consider the ethics behind the usage of cookies.

    Zac

    Like

    1. Hi Zac,

      As yet haven’t started the comedy blog, got a degree to complete first and foremost!

      I was going to mention my personal opinion on cookies in my reflection but I’d have to agree with you that they are an invasion of privacy. I think the EU introducing relevant legislation is a very bold move to attempt to correct websites doing things without our knowledge, after all most websites allow you to continue on them if you choose to decline their cookies. Overall they are more useful than invasive, it does make the browsing experience easier but they must be used responsibly, not in the way that airlines were/are rumoured to use them!

      I’ve used similar methods to “incognito” and found myself getting fustrated at the lack of knowledge it retained about me, for example logging in to my email each time took a lot longer than expected (mainly because I struggled to remember which password I had used). But at the same time I get a bit scared when google remember searches I’ve made on my android browser when I’m using google chrome on my laptop, that’s where it feels like too much of an invasion I’d say. Have you ever experienced that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah I find it crazy the amount of information stored based on my historical usage. Amazon always suggest things based on previous purchases which I find scary when I’m switching from one device to the next. I think the scope for misuse of cookies is colossal, what if the information was leaked into the wrong hands like scammers, frauds or even worse, the government? Is this a concern you have?

        In regards to using ‘incognito mode’, I think the pros outweigh the cons, although I suppose I’m a tad paranoid/cynical about cookies and my browser history being stored.

        Like

  3. Hi everyone,

    I have read through the blog post and all the comments. I think that with regards to Zac’s use of incognito, the analysis of cookies spans more than one device, as is obvious with android users. I agree that using incognito can be beneficial on a laptop and can be a good choice if the user is attempting to purchase something from the internet. However cookies are also saved on mobiles and constantly logging in to social media on a phone keyboard is infuriating. Therefore my conclusion is that incognito is only used when it outweighs the negative of cookies. Personally on mobiles, the logistical struggle overlord the want to attempt to hide what I am viewing or purchasing.

    From experience I know that cookies track what I have purchased and attempt to sell me similar items. I have never an experience to the case study of the price of product being raised… not to my own knowledge anyways aha

    Regards

    Alex

    Like

    1. Hi Alex,

      Very relevant point about using “incognito” mode when necessary, such as Zac suggested for buying flights. I do wonder if it applies to more online shopping experiences than flights, would amazon or other large online retailers use cookies in this way? I haven’t personally seen it but the possibility is obviously there.

      As previously mentioned I would agree that they are useful in the time they save logging into social media, shopping or email sites. This can cause a problem if you leave your laptop left unlocked around some slightly immature friends, and I’ve even seen examples of people’s profiles being used by others when left online on a public computer, in spaces such as libraries or internet cafes. What a nightmare!

      Arthur

      Like

  4. Hi Zac,

    in response to your last comment I too have found amazon offering me loads of products that are in similar fields to ones I’ve been previously browsing for. The adverts often appear on the Facebook app on my phone when I’ve been searching for them on my browser, that’s terrifying!

    I must admit the prospect of scammers or any other unruly users getting my passwords makes me uneasy, my former next door neighbour had his Facebook account hacked by a completely unknown user and left my former neighbour very distressed, often posting abusive posts to his friends and family. I don’t know if you saw but recently Yahoo Mail (of which i’m a user) had roughly 1/3 of their accounts email passwords unveiled. I had to be very careful to cover any personal information on my private email account, very time consuming.

    Arthur.

    Like

  5. Hi Arthur,

    Great post this week, I feel the annoyance of cookies and where they hide on the Internet is a subject deserving of discussion, and you have certainly brought it to the forefront. In my own experience, it would be ideal if we could pick and choose which cookies influence our online behaviour. I’m always pleased when I come across a tailored ad that suggests a product or service that I might be interested in, but at the same time I can barely believe the audacity of Asos to advertise products to me that I already have in my basket. Unfortunately the choice is rarely mine, and I think your post really echos that sentiment.

    It’s interesting that you suggest cookies aren’t used by airlines to raise prices, as this is something that I had always believed to be a given, and consequently choose to browse ‘incognito’ when I’m looking for flights. You’ve certainly prompted me to go away and do a bit more research of my own into just how paranoid I should be here.

    I’d be interested to hear your view on whether or not you think there is anything for us, the consumer, to do about cookies storing our information, or if we simply have to trust the websites to only take necessary information and use it for its intended purpose. Perhaps in future there will be more information about the implications of allowing cookies, and how to avoid unintentionally giving out information or preferences.

    I thought your post flowed particularly well, fitting a lot of information and opinions into what felt like a very succinct piece of writing, and this was probably down to your great use of the graphic and video to offer that little bit extra. Great post all round.

    Like

  6. Hi Will,

    Cheers for the positive feedback, really appreciate that! I think the EU legislation goes someway to helping us have a choice in the cookies we would like by demanding that websites ask us whether or not we’d like to use their cookies. However, I too would like to see the option to pick and choose which cookies they use, rather than just a blanket “yes” or “no” on all cookies on any particular website. Problems that may arise from this may include it becoming unbelievably time consuming if websites are using several cookies, and it may prevent us from receiving any of the benefits of cookies.

    In my experience it is relevant offers that appear from companies such as Amazon, such as a relevant Christmas presents in a department, such as electronics, that I’ve been previously searching in. I think I’ve had the same problem with Asos in the past, maybe they need to learn a thing or two from Amazons use of cookies (or stop presuming we’re all characters in The Simpsons and wear the same outfit every day).

    Personally I delete my entire browser history, including cookies, every couple of months. I’m not entirely sure it’s down to paranoia, If i was really worried about them I’d delete them more regularly. Most of the research I conducted, mainly regarding airlines, suggests we shouldn’t be too worried about cookies and their influence on prices but there could be scope for panic about the storing of information. I personally do not mind this, I’m quite a big advocate of surveillance and data being stored on individuals, it’s only in personal matters that I would see an intrusion, such as messages between friends and family that may disclose information that is intended to be private. How about you, does it concern you? Or do you think you should take more precautions to delete your cookies?

    Like

  7. Hi Arthur,
    This is a great blog post with a title and opening paragraph that captures the reader from the very beginning. Furthermore, the images, YouTube videos and clear headings meant that it was easy to read and understand the points made.

    Your airline example highlighted the issue well as it gave a real-world example of the misuse of cookies by firms. In addition to airlines, I have found that car insurance companies have been accused of the same thing.

    From my own personal experience, I have often been scrolling through Facebook and found adverts for items I have previously been looking at on other websites. Despite this being somewhat intrusive, I find that tailored ads are very useful and enhance my online experience, since adverts will be present either way so may as well be relevant to me.

    In your opinion, would you agree that the pros of cookies, outweigh the almost impossible to prove conspiracies against them?

    Like

  8. Hi Harry,

    Thanks for the response! I have personally never come across car insurance companies doing this, but as previously mentioned I am interested in seeing if companies in other industries use cookies in this way. Out of interest, was it a direct companies website (such as direct line) or a comparison website (such as confused.com)? The flight comparison websites stated that it wasn’t possible for them to use cookies in this way due to the nature of their websites, so I would like to see if this was the same across all industries.

    Overall I think cookies are beneficial, the time they save logging in to various websites and entering details is not to be frowned upon (I think humans are intrinsically lazy and constantly looking for ways to save the time it takes to complete tasks). As you mention it is slightly intrusive but nonetheless very useful to have tailored adverts. Saying that I’ve never personally bought anything from them, as the suggestions they provide are for products I have already purchased.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s