Cookie killers: Changing the model

It doesn't take a cop or a private eye: you're being followed everywhere you go. Your phone company knows of your travels, and your browser vendor knows of the sites you visit. They would lift the curtain and peer inside your bedroom window if they could. The dignity and privacy robbing ways of the sponsors of what you do need to shift their models. Here's how to do put pressure on them.

I propose hypervisors or sandboxes, specifically for browsers so that in doing so, users can thwart the data accumulation being done by cookie harvesting APIs. Facebook and others can determine a lot of information about you, even if you're not logged in, as many sites have Facebook “like”-type widgets that rat you out. The widget, without your permission, will update a cookie that lets others know that you've been there.

Many web pages that you load, spy on you. When the web page loads it rarely loads from just one source. Instead, it loads from numerous sources, a little bit from here, a little from there, some from the site where you loaded the pages from. Meanwhile, immense amounts of information is being accumulated about you. Analytics companies that pour over accumulated data know your politics, your social media choices, how old you are, your sex, you sexual preferences, and even your hobbies. Maybe you're a quilter, or enjoy old Laburda motorcycles. You're worried about hemorroids. You search a lot for a childhood friend. You got a map for a Thai restaurant, but soon you also searched for Indian food. There were two searches for a muffler shop. That was last week.

The piles of data are being accumulated in two places, one of them is on your computer or tablet or smart phone in the form of cookies. The cookies, as Facebook showed us last week, can be tracked by a site even when you're not logged into an application. Web pages that have Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other icons can update their respective cookies as you cruise by a site that's totally NOT related to one of those vendors. In other words, cookies can be promiscuous. Do you feel your dignity melting?

One fix would be to control the browser's state, so that cookies are restored to their pre-visit state. It's largely impossible to turn off cookies in a browser, so a minimum cookie state must be established, often with a password inside and other variables that mean nothing to you, but allow the page to be delivered to your browser correctly with a minimum of hassle. A browser hypervisor (could be a browser sandbox, a concept that's similar) would prevent web surfing from ratting your visit to another website.

Yes, you'd perhaps lose some of the +1, Like, and Tweet-from-here options. And you'd also be preventing the little private detectives from sniffing your every web move, building unthinkable profiles about you on the way.

The concept of cookie-thwarting has been thought through, and the idea isn't perfect. With the announcement of the Silk Browser in Amazon's Fire Tablet, a new and onerous chapter begins in the robbery of personal privacy towards corporate ends. The browser gets all of its pages focused through Amazon Web Services, a/k/a AWS. This means that Amazon gets to peer at 100% of the Silk data that a purchaser of an Amazon Fire will use. Amazon gets to see every site used and can accumulate data that Facebook analysts have only dreamed of.

Amazon gets to know where the browser goes, how frequently, and ostensibly will queue up things better than just using a browser on your local ISP's delivery service. You'll have no choice about this, unless you load, and use another browser. The price here is the dignity of your privacy. The cost is someone thinking up how to do browser hypervisors/sandboxes for IE, Safari, Firefox, Opera, and Chrome.


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