How Cookie-Gate Crumbles

How Cookie-Gate Crumbles
Posted by FoM on July 05, 2000 at 20:55:18 PT
By Solveig Singleton, CNS Commentary
Source: CNSNews
People get upset about the darndest things. The most recent tempest in Leviathan's teapot is the use of a rather commonplace Internet technology called "cookies" to track the viewing of ads on the drug czar's web site. The White House chief of staff has demanded that Barry R. McCaffrey explain how the practice of monitoring traffic using cookies began. But this latest installment in the demonization of cookies is absurd. Here's why.
The war on drugs has strained civil liberties to the breaking point. The police can seize your property without trial under forfeiture laws, and even if you are found innocent, you will have an awful time getting it back again. The war has brought us routine surveillance of ordinary people's bank accounts, the expansion of wiretapping powers and the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent criminals. Worst is the transformation of inner-city neighborhoods into de facto war zones, the inevitable result of Prohibition-style black markets.All of this, apparently, is just fine with the press, the public and politicians on the Hill and in the White House. Yet they are shocked, simply shocked, to find the drug czar's web site using cookies. One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.Central to understanding this is the idea that people can get used to anything. The human and societal cost of the war on drugs is staggering. But cookies? A lot of people don't know what they are or how they work, and new and unknown is scary. Never mind that cookies, like binoculars or satellites, are pretty benign, although they can be used for evil purposes. Should we cower before cookies, like isolated tribesmen who believe the explorers' camera will steal their souls?What are cookies, and what do they do? Cookies are little data files that are saved to an Internet user's computer. These files track purchases loaded into online shopping carts, record how many times a user has seen a certain banner advertisement and so on. They help web sites identify when a regular visitor has returned, so that the visitor need not re-enter his identification information every time. Cookies tell the server, "This visitor has been here before" or "This visitor has seen this ad three times already."Cookies were invented by Internet pioneer Lou Montulli in 1994, when he was working for the brand-new Netscape. Netscape was trying to help web sites become viable commercial enterprises. But the web sites were not very good at customer relations. In an ordinary store in the "real" world of malls and main street, the shopkeeper can eyeball shoppers coming in, identify regular customers, check out suspicious characters, get a feel for whether his visitors are locals or tourists, likely buyers or merely browsers and make sure that shoppers can find what they are looking for. Web sites had no mechanism for collecting this information; on the Internet, every visitor was an anonymous stranger. Without cookies or some other tracking technology, web sites are blind and deaf. So it should hardly come as a big shock that cookies are widely used across the Internet. They are simply a part of the way the Internet works.If you don't mind the inconvenience of a cookie-less world, it's easy enough to disable cookies. If you are using Netscape Navigator, go to the taskbar and click on "Edit." Select "Preferences," go to "Advanced." Next click on "Cookies" and select "Disabled," or ask to be warned before your browser accepts a cookie. If you are using Internet Explorer, go to "Tools," then "Internet Options" and select "Security." Go to "Custom," scroll down to "Cookies," and again select "Disabled."The fact that many people have not yet heard of cookies does not mean that they are some kind of sinister surveillance, any more than is Caller ID. It simply means that the Internet is new and that many users, having come online for the first time in the last two or three years, are ignorant of its nuances. If you're looking for serious threats to civil liberties, the war on drugs is a good object of your scrutiny. But cookies can't batter your door down with automatic weaponry. They are just a technology that makes the Internet more convenient.Solveig Singleton is director of information studies at the Cato Institute: shogenson cnsnews.comWeb Posted: July 5, 2000CNSNews.comRelated Articles:Uncle Sam's Cookie is Watching You' Hands Caught in Cookie Jar House on Cookies: Doh! Web Site Tracks Visitors House Drug Office Tracks Computer Visitors 
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on July 06, 2000 at 11:39:51 PT
One More Thing About IE
I go to TOOLS then INTERNET OPTIONS then ADVANCED then I turn off Java. I don't have video, animations or audio on either. When I need them I turn them on, then off. My computer hasn't gotten buggy so far doing it this way. Just a little more advice. I'm not very technical about this just sharing what I do.Peace, FoM!
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on July 06, 2000 at 08:35:31 PT
I Love My Internet Explorer Browser
What I do is run on high security and deleted my Temporary Internet Files and then go one step further and delete my History. That also helps my computer run a little better. It means pages must reload again when you go back to a site but that is a minor inconvenience to me. Cookies are a problem but Echelon is a bigger one I think.Echelon Watch ACLU Launches Web Site On Global Surveillance System
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Comment #3 posted by Kanabys on July 06, 2000 at 08:27:27 PT
try another browser
I have switched to using Opera. this browser can automatically delete cookies at the end of your session. It also has many other configs. I think it's a great proggy. If you have to use netscape or God forbid IE, get a simple cookie filter like Cookie-Pal or the like. Using an anonymous proxy proggy like Anonymous4Proxy is a good idea too. Good luck at staying private and anonymous in a country with such sneaky & underhanded tendencies.
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Comment #2 posted by Dave in Florida on July 06, 2000 at 06:11:15 PT
More info on Cookies
I found this on Marijauna.comIf you are using Internet Explorer for your web browser, please pay close attention to this warning.         Internet Explorer, as with all things microsoft, has a MAJOR SECURITY PROBLEM when dealing with cookies.The problem is that your Internet Explorer Cookie file is readable by anyone who wants to read it. What does this have to do with you?Well, while CheapTalk, HempCultivation.Com, and Marijuana.Com DO NOT store ANY personal information incookies, we do use it to store username and password information for those who chose to "save password" in thepreferences of the discussion boards. Now, imagine for a moment going to some government website, or any malicious website for that matter, that uses a very simple javascript to extract the contents of ALL your cookie files...Including your online bank account, your cookie, and your cookie, and ANY/EVERY other cookie you have on yoursystem (in my cookie file I have over 700 different cookies). Now, In my cookie, you can find myname, in my cookie you can find my address and account number and in my cheaptalk cookie you can find my username.Can you see the light?Dont take my word for it...PLEASE I BEG OF YOU NOT TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT! If you are using internet explorer right now, click [url] reveal what anyone else can easily steal from you. (Scroll to the bottom of the page for the info) for a more detailed look into your cookie files and the information that they reveal       This link will allow you to look into your; cookies, cookies, cookies, (Stores WAY TO MUCH INFO!) cookies, cookies, cookies... As I said, while the cheaptalk link that I provided above DOES NOT contain ANY personal information, it is quitepossible, scratch that, make it highly probable that some other site has stored personal information about you ina cookie located on your hard drive. When all the data from these cookies is analized, it is very, VERY simple totell "who" you are. Just about every single piece of personal information about me was stored in a cookie that I was able to access via a very simple script.I may completely block Internet Explorer from accessing Marijuana.Com because of the lax security microsofthas shown time and time again. I urge you to download Netscape Navigator IMMEDIATELY and to uninstall Internet Explorer. Netscape Navigator is not vulnerable to this bug...only Internet Explorer users.Please take this warning very seriously. Most likely I will begin blocking IE users from Marijuana.Com and it'ssub-sites on the next version of Marijuana.Com to better protect our visitors from themselves.This is how easy it is....1. You search for "Marijuana" in some search engine.2. You are returned a link to a gov't site.3. You click the link to go to the site.4. Upon loading the gov't site, the java script reaches into your cookies and takes a snapshot of all your data.5. Cookies are examined by narc's.6. Your email addy is obtained from your ebay cookie.7. Your username is obtained from your cheaptalk cookie. (if you selected to store that information on the cookie,settable in the preferences)8. Static ip address's are collected from the various cookies.9. A search is done on cheaptalk, or overgrow looking for posts by that user. 10. Your screwed.I have implemented this script and have captured over 1,000 users cookies already today. This leads me to believe that I must take responsibility for protecting our visitors and the only way I can do that is to simply not allow you to come inside if you are using Internet Explorer.         I will not be a part of privacy violation even if I am a third party in the violation. I simply will not allow you to take the chance.Rick Garciaaka SativaMarijuana.Com[This message has been edited by Sativa (edited July 03, 2000).]
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Comment #1 posted by dddd on July 06, 2000 at 02:23:16 PT
I agree with this article,,,,but,,,I think the reason that cookies,in the hand of the government is so alarming,is the fact that the internet is a unique place where freedom of speech remains almost intact. It's true that the war on drugs is far more intrusive,but that is the exact reason why government snooping around,and messing with cyber-privacy is so disturbing.........dddd
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