tweeted, don't have a face for Facebook, and MySpace is quite limited at the moment.
However, I love cookies. My wife makes the most delectable chocolate chip cookies and
snickerdoodles from scratch. I am fond of vanilla wafers and Oreos and I love oatmeal-
raisin cookies. Now, I discover "cookies" can violate my privacy and allow companies to track
my activities online. Couldn't we change the name of these cyber-creations to Brussels sprouts
Privacy is an endangered species. In the past, I have written about how your cell phone
can be used to track you; your OnStar car system can follow you; rental car companies have
put devices in the car to track your speed and other driving habits as well as location; and the
Fast Pass you use to cross the Bay Area bridges tracks you and the records can be subpoenaed.
On Facebook, you can click on "places" to let every burglar in the city know you aren't home
and now it turns out companies are using "cookies" to track you and even if you delete the
"cookie", a new version saves a small file on your computer to re-create the "cookie" and thus
your activities can be continuously tracked.
"Cookies" are supposed to be a convenience. They allow a site to remember you so you
don't have to log in information each time you visit. Courts have ruled websites can place
"cookies" on your computer. It turns out, they can also be used to track you across websites
producing a dossier of your preferences, where you window shop, what you purchase, and what
subjects interest you. This information is then sold to advertisers who can target you with ads
and special offers. It is also available to lots of other interested parties including the
government. The Wall Street Journal estimates "cookies" are the basis for a $23 billion online
If this is not intrusive enough, mobile tracking is picking up steam aimed at people who
use smartphones. One company assigns a unique I.D. number similar to a "cookie" and if the
user deletes the number, it re-creates itself moments later. All your activity on the phone can
then be tracked and the information sold or used for other purposes.
We don't have a lot of privacy left. Between the Patriot Act, telecom spying, "cookies",
ID numbers, GPS systems, and the promise of cameras everywhere you go in your city or town,
there are few places left to be free from prying eyes. There are still a few hideouts; and
corporate America seems to want to eliminate these as well. The Fourth Amendment is almost
useless and so many people today don't seem to care. They argue if you haven't done anything
wrong, why should you care if you are being tracked or watched? The problem with this line of
reasoning is that the government determines the rules and what is acceptable now may not be
acceptable tomorrow. Even worse is a government which in the past has spied on and acted
against Americans engaging in legal conduct in order to intimidate and find ways to stop them
and move against them.
The Federal Trade Commission is supposed to issue new privacy guidelines soon. There
is also talk of creating a Do-Not-Track registry similar to the Do-Not-Call registry system used
against telemarketers. You need to be aware of these developments. You need to protect your
privacy. We need to oppose those who speak of national ID cards as a solution to the illegal
immigration problem (the Social Security card is already too much of a de facto national ID
Imagine all of this information, technology, and tracking systems in the hands of a
tyrannical government. Imagine a president who would use all of this to track political enemies
and crush dissent. Imagine a corporation which could use all of this to intimidate and trap
environmental or other activist groups opposed to their policies or actions. Is there anyone,
anyone reading this who believes this information would not be used against us?
Many times I have been advised to avoid cookies for health reasons. It turns out these
new "cookies" could be even more dangerous to our health and welfare. It's 10 o'clock, do you
know where your smartphone is? Does it know where you are? What do you think?
I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org