The Wall Street Journal, in the past year, has released dozens of articles about tracking cookies being secretly placed on your computer when you visit popular websites. One recent article conjures the term "Supercookies" as a lethal injection of privacy violation (see Latest in Web Tracking: Stealthy Supercookies). As soon as this article is posted the conspiracy theorists and big brother gang start jumping in and voicing their disgust. Here's an example:
"The moment you are ONLINE, it is as good as imagining that you are swimming in the cool blue sea (very enticing) infested with killer sharks (cookies)."
The WSJ seems to be scraping for something of substance and when they find a small granule they come out with horns blaring and the town crier using a megaphone. This amazes me because the WSJ is a publication site that relies on ad dollars just like the websites they claim are spies. Anybody that uses Bing, Yahoo, or Google ad networks allows this to happen and the WSJ is one of them. But in the majority of cases, this is not a bad thing and can be beneficial to website visitors.
I believe a quick explanation is in order for how cookies actually work. Every time you visit a website a cookie is placed on your computer. The only way one is not placed on your computer is if the owner of the website is a very poor marketer (I'll elaborate in a bit).
Here's a more intelligent comment from the article above:
"Cookies are not about advertising per se but about "targeted advertising". Let them advertise but without a window into my private life. That's how the world worked until recently and I failed to notice any lack of advertisers back then."
It is about targeted advertising and this benefits everyone who uses any site with advertising. How many times have you watched a show on TV and you see an advertisement for the Little Rascal scooter, some medical alert device, or some other commercial that doesn't apply to you. That is mass advertising. Cable companies claim it is targeted but it is targeted only by region and survey demographics. It is not a true and accurate target audience.
Cookies, on the other hand, allow advertising companies to track user preferences so they can deliver the most relevant advertisements that match up with website visitors' interests and lifestyles. If you look at an article or website about the new Toyota Sienna mini-van you may see ads from dealers near you or ads for competing brands you may also be interested in. Buying a mini-van says a few things about you though. You probably have a family and are interested in security.