The Cookies are Tracking You

The Cookies are Tracking You

Written by: Carol Benaderet

Privacy issues have been a concern for Internet users ever since the creation of cookies.[1] The cookie was invented in order to allow websites to remember the items shoppers had selected to purchase; without cookies, the items in the shopping cart would disappear once the shopper clicked on a different page.[2] Advertisers have taken advantage of this advance in technology by tracking people’s behavior on the Internet, otherwise known as behavioral targeting.[3] Advertising companies are able to obtain the information individuals have browsed and suggest similar products or goods based on the browsing history.[4] Although cookies can be disabled, many websites will not allow one to navigate the page without enabling the cookies in the browser.

Common law torts, such as invasion of privacy, as well as statutes, such as the Computer Abuse and Fraud Act, have been tools for litigation in this field.[5] Nevertheless, advertising companies continue to track the information individuals view on their personal computers. One of the primary reasons companies continue to do this is due to their self-regulation scheme. “Many companies have taken the rather extraordinary step of voluntarily publishing a privacy statement, a series of promises and disclosures about what the company does and does not do to collect or share user information.”[6] However, the information is often left unread by the public thereby rendering this information useless.[7]

Currently, privacy legislation is being introduced in order to respond to the threat that behavioral targeting poses to the security and privacy of individuals.[8] Meanwhile, the Association of National Advertisers (“ANA”) has responded by developing “a comprehensive new self-regulatory program for online behavioral advertising.”[9] According to the Digital Advertising Alliance (“DAA”), the new guidelines for advertisers will bring greater transparency to consumers by informing consumers about their data practices and displaying the advertising option icon where consumers may opt-out of the ads.[10] However, many advertising companies as well as retailers are not part of this alliance thereby leaving individuals vulnerable to behavioral targeting.

More recently, Google Inc. has considered getting rid of cookies that target individuals by creating “its own anonymous identifier for each individual.”[11] Although this would limit what advertisers may see from individual browsers, there would still be privacy concerns since information would still be available to these companies.[12] Moreover, the online advertising industry is worth 120 billion dollars; therefore, this move to what Google claims will be safer may still be far away.[13]

[1] Christina Tsuel, How Advertisers Use Internet Cookies to Track You, Wall St. J. (Jul. 7, 2010, 6:58 PM, http://live.wsj.com/video/how-advertisers-use-internet-cookies-to-track-you/92E525EB-9E4A-4399-817D-8C4E6EF68F93.html#!92E525EB-9E4A-4399-817D-8C4E6EF68F93.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Theodore Grossman & Aaron M. Grossman, Lifting the Veil on Internet Privacy, Mealey’s Litig. Report: Cyber Tech & E-Commerce, Sept. 2000.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Online Privacy Issues Heating Up, Ass’n of Nat’l Advertisers, http://www.ana.net/content/show/id/21041 (last visited Oct. 27, 2014).

[9] Id.

[10] The Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising, Digital Adver. Alliance, http://www.aboutads.info/ (last visited Oct. 27, 2014).

[11] Elizabeth Dwoskin, Google May Stop Using ’Cookies’ to Track Web Users, Wall St. J. (Sept. 18, 2013, 8:30 PM), http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324807704579083723267549160.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

Author: Carol Benaderet

Carol Benaderet is a second year law student at Rutgers School of Law-Newark and an Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal. Prior to law school, Carol attended Bernard Baruch College and obtained a B.B.A. in Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship. She also focused her minor areas of study in Business Law and Political Science. During the summer of 2014, Carol was a Senior Summer Analyst at Goldman Sachs in the Compliance division. Carol has a strong interest in Corporate and Family Law. She is currently the Treasurer of the Association of Latin American Law Students and a Second Year Representative of the Finance and Business Law Society.