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September 25, 2006

Cookie deletion, year two

The buzz about cookie deletion is back in the press this week with the release of a new report. You'll probably recall last year when all types of reports from BURST, Jupiter and Webtrends and were predicting deletion rates of around 30%. I've always thought these number were a little overblown, and that it's really around 10%.

Now comes new research that says that not all cookies are treated equally. Revenue magazine covers the release of a study conducted by spyware expert Ben Edelman that tests different spyware programs. More and more spyware programs are leaving cookies alone. Even the most aggressive are only deleting 40% of all cookies. Cookies from Yahoo! and advertising networks are deleted most often.

One interesting development is that Google has apparently developed cookies that, not only aren't detected by spyware removal programs, but also maintain the anonymity of the user:

Edelman claims that Google uses an interesting cookie mechanism, which combines the “efficiency of third-party cookies (with easy and fast implementation by the network alone, without complicated merchant-specific integration) with some greater privacy protections (by partial data decentralization using limited-path cookie scope. Google's approach also ends up randomizing cookie filenames, making it harder for some anti- spyware scanners to identify which cookies are Google's, he adds.

Another part of this argument is whether or not cookie deletion is in the best interest of the user. Cookies are used these days to control multiple logins and display customized content. Check out what it's like for a typical user to go anonymous in this WSJ article. In the end, I think the benefits of cookies outweigh the advantages of being anonymous even for typical users. Cookies are here to stay. - Paul Herring

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