This article basically brings to light a security hole in web browsers, the cookie, a concept that has been around since some of the first versions of Netscape over 10 years ago.
Crovitz, who is no technical neophyte and oversaw major changes in the WSJ both print and web version, wrote this piece as some kind of warning to websites and advertisers.
Even those of us who are enthusiastic about using the Web for what it does best, including access to highly customized information, agree there’s something potentially creepy about cookies. How are personal data used? Are our names, addresses and financial and health records really secret? Is anonymity permanent? These questions come just as what technology can do is changing our expectations about what information remains personal.
The bottom line is all the lies and fear around cookies are just that. Cookies are relatively benign. In fact, anyone with questions about them and how they work should just spend a few minutes and use Google for some answers. Sites like this All About Cookies article can give some good information and put some of your fear to rest:
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.
The point of the article seems to be to discuss the possibility of regulation from politicians on the whole issue. While this would be unfortunate, it’s pretty much ridiculous. Regulating cookies, proving that their use was in violation of some law, proving that it was actually set by the offending website and establishing jurisdiction over the server that set the cookie would be a monumental and futile task. The bottom line is that a cookie can only include information you have submitted to a website. If you ARE going to send sensitive personal information to a website, make sure it’s a reliable party and you have a secure connection. Also make sure your system is behind a firewall and virus free. These are a much higher security/privacy risk than Cookies could ever be, but are ignored by millions of people across the country.