Thursday, 27 March 2008

Silicone chip cookies

Have you ever noticed what a lot of things your computer does that you don't realise that it is doing, or that you don't really control. I have a system monitor on my Windows Sidebar, and sometimes I just sit and watch the dual cores beavering away whilst I'm doing nothing. Or take a look at the task manager and see what a lot of processes Windows is running when you've got no programmes open.

These hidden processes aren't limited to your desktop environment. They extend into the on-line world too, where the biggest (and probably most controversial) hidden process is cookies. No, not the tasty sort you have with tea. These are small files deposited on your computer by websites. Nearly every website. A lot of them are perfectly harmless and are simply used to track visitors, or to store the information that you fill into form fields. Some however can be viewed as much more sinister, and indeed some people go as far as to claim an invasion of privacy. These are the tracking and data-miner type cookies. Third parties use these to attempt to build a profile of surfing habits and target marketing etc.

My browser of choice is Firefox. These things don't worry me too much. They can target their advertising all they like, but I have Ad-block Plus installed, and haven't seen an advert on the internet in months. Equally I'm not terribly worried about any invasion of privacy, I'm not sure that I mind anyone knowing that I visit Facebook three times a day and blog at least once a day. What I don't like is the underhand and sneaky way in which these things work. Today I looked at my cookie collection. At least a third of the sites listed weren't sites that I had visited. Third parties doing the dirty work. So, I updated my 'exceptions' list and added all these sites. Take that data-miners!

Why this sudden obsession with data collection and targeted marketing? Well, I read an article in Web User today about a new system called Webwise, commonly known as Phorm. This is going to be trialled by BT, TalkTalk and my own ISP Virgin Media. Apparently TalkTalk are going to be using an 'opt-in' basis, and BT and Virgin and 'opt-out' basis. This annoyed me. Even more than the sneaky data collectors. Apparently according to their website they will be writing to me 'nearer the time' to provide further details. We shall see how this is presented. Apart from the bad manners of making it an opt-out service (no service should be opt-out, the choice should always be presented as opt-in) I don't see it impacts me in the slightest. Anyone using Firefox has most of these bases covered with Add-ons.

It doesn't matter anyway. Phorm are already added to my cookie exclusion list!