What is a cookie?
Cookies are text files that allow a website to retain information about a user’s activities. For example, when a user places a pair of shoes in an online shopping cart on Nordstrom’s website, the website’s server receives a request. When the user adds a shirt to the cart, the server receives a separate request. Cookies allow the server to connect the separate requests, typically by placing a cookie with a unique signature in the user’s browser and matching that signature to the user’s activities on the website.
Because the US federal government provides only limited consumer privacy protections through a patchwork of laws and regulations, individual states have started to tackle data privacy on their own. Last year, several states passed data protection laws, including Colorado, Vermont, and most notably, California, which passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) to regulate the use of personal information that goes into effect in 2020. Like the EU rules, the CCPA will require companies to notify users about their cookie policies.
Despite resounding support for increased data privacy regulation, governments—even those proactively regulating cookie usage and other data privacy issues—struggle to keep pace with new technologies. Cookies, for example, can only be used on traditional computers, not mobile devices. Newer technologies, however, allow advertisers to track users across platforms. Thus, the regulation of cookies may do little to protect consumers’ privacy in the future.
For years, people have predicted the death of the cookie. However, the technology has some staying power based on the sheer volume of cookies in existence. Even if the cookie is completely replaced by a newer technology, the same overall issues remain. Americans are worried about data privacy and are losing confidence in major tech companies. In fact, Americans trust the federal government more than Facebook to protect their personal information.
Most Americans believe that the federal government should do more to regulate social media companies and data privacy. Though the current political climate poses myriad challenges, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that Americans are willing to “green light” increased federal regulations. In the meantime, TermScout aims to offer tools to help people compare privacy policies and cookie policies so that people can make better informed decisions about who they do business with.