Cookies and Web Browser Design: Toward Realizing Informed Consent Online

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Edward Felten, Batya Friedman and Lynette I. Millett


Proceedings of CHI 2001 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 2001


This paper looks at how web browsers can help protect privacy online.

Policy Relevance

Web browsers should be changed to give users more control of how information is used about them online.

Main Points

  • A “cookie” is a small piece of text information sent from a web site and stored on a computer users’ hard drive. Cookies were first used in 1995 so that users could visit a web site repeatedly without having to type their identifying information in every time.

  • Today cookies can be used to create profiles of users online without the users’ knowledge or consent. Some are used by online advertisers for targeted marketing.

  • Some versions of Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorers accept all cookies unless the user changes the settings. This default should be changed.

  • Browsers should tell users how a cookie’s information will be used, allow users to refuse all cookies from advertisers and other third parties more easily, and control how long cookies are saved.

  • Browsers should alert users when a site wishes to use a cookie, not just when the site stores a cookie. But this might require too many changes in Internet technology.

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