Caught With Our Hands in the Cookie Jar

I have been observing with some interest the recent bulletin board and listserv discussions around both the ethics and efficacy of dropping cookies on user hard drives in order to accrue pertinent targeting data.

Permission is once again a hot topic, thanks largely to related House and Senate legislation, now pending. The rapid ascent and proliferation of adware and spyware marketers has created a chaotic milieu, one in which we simply don't know what's going on under the hoods of our expensive desktops and laptops.

We literally do not know who's listening in, who's tracking our behavior, and to what effect. This seems more than a little at odds with the whole notion of online accountability.

Our first glimpse that something might be amiss usually comes in the form of eroded computer performance. Our machines slow down and we don't know why. Privacy and security -- already a few rungs south of speed and convenience on the significance ladder for most of us -- suddenly rise to the surface like forgotten stepchildren.



But this is only because the maddening inconvenience of clogged CPUs boils up from the bottoms of our souls like a subterranean pool of magma, and lifts everything else up with it. Thus the real and more disconcerting lesson of adware and spyware: None of us would likely object to them if it weren't for the inconvenience we now suffer in the form of reduced performance.

Indeed, the history of cookies would suggest that privacy and security -- at the end of the day -- are hardly top-of-mind concerns, regardless of our righteous indignation whenever the technology stops working properly. We ourselves decided back in the 1990s to disable the cookie warning switch and accept them outright, without notification.

Now, largely because of the inconvenience and reduced performance incurred by massive adware and spyware abuse, privacy and security have returned to the foreground as meaningful issues.

I, for one, am glad they're back. It's time again to take a good look at the meaning and application of privacy and security online -- as a logical extension of permission-based marketing. Convenience aside, it occurs to me that I no longer want any advertiser, publisher, or marketer to deposit anything on my hard drive without compensating me directly for it.

Permission-based marketing begins with a variation on the same simple question right up front in each encounter: "May I enter your home?" There can be no permission-based marketing unless and until that question is asked, regardless of the reply.

Regarding the reply: The evolution of one-to-one marketing suggests that marketers in the near future will be compelled to pay for our individual mind share. The answer to the above question may therefore become, "Yes, you may enter my home... for a fee. Deposit one-tenth of a penny in my cyber-account for every cookie you drop on my hard drive, and every targeted ad you deliver through the data gathered by that cookie."

Logistics aside, my point is simple: We cannot ignore the basic premise of permission-based marketing in a one-to-one environment. We must ask permission as a preface to each and every encounter. Failure to do so, failure to regulate our own behavior, will result in someone else regulating it for us -- guaranteed.

Cookies became the default online artifacts the very moment we discovered that we care more about convenience than privacy. A few short years later, they became less appealing the very moment abuse of the media ecology reared its ugly head in the form of increased inconvenience and aggravation.

Our ability and willingness to do something just because we can in the absence of technological and regulatory constraint has caught up with us. We got caught with our collective hands in the cookie jar. Now it's time to pay. Only this time, the model must include direct payment to the good folks who own the real estate: the consumers.

Your thoughts?

Many thanks, as always, and best to you and yours...

Please note: The Einstein's Corner discussion group at is dedicated to exploring the adverse effects of our addictions to technology and media on the quality of our lives, both at work and at home. Please feel free to drop by and join the discussion.

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