Fox News reports The Office of Management and Budget is considering reversing a nine-year ban on using "cookies" to track users' preferences and interests on federal Web sites. The shift in policy is being billed as a way for government to enter the 21st century and for federal agencies to use the same technology utilized on news sites, retail sites and social media networks.
"Without explaining this reversal of policy, the OMB is seeking to allow the mass collection of personal information of every user of a federal government website," Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative office, said in a statement. "Until OMB answers the multitude of questions surrounding this policy shift, we will continue to raise our strenuous objections."
From Wikipedia and other sources: A cookie is a small piece of text or code stored on a user's computer by a web browser used to track data. Cookies contains bits of information such as user preferences, shopping cart contents and sometimes user names and passwords. Cookies communicate from the users browser back and forth to the webpage remembering settings.
Cookies are close cousins to, but are neither spyware or viruses, although cookies from certain sites are detected by many anti-spyware products because they can allow users to be tracked when they visit various sites. They can be but mostly aren't malicious.
Spyware's is being used by government agents to track criminals. "Computer and internet protocol address verifier," or CIPAV is government developed spyware that gathers a wide range of information, including the computer's IP address; MAC address; open ports; a list of running programs; the operating system type, version and serial number; preferred internet browser and version; the computer's registered owner and registered company name; the current logged-in user name and the last-visited URL.
This scares privacy advocates for good reason.
But cookies generally non-invasively track within a site typically to produce usage statistics, while tracking across sites is typically used by advertising companies to produce anonymous user profiles (which are then used to determine what advertisements should be shown to the user). Most websites require your browser to accept cookies or the websites become unusable. Social networks fully depend on cookies for everything a user does.
Federal government agencies have banned cookies in their own sites since 2000 due to privacy advocates screaming their agenda, and for good reason. Once you give governments an inch, they take a mile. In the US, when something is fishy within government, people often rise up and challenge government, questioning their intentions.
Whats also raising hackles is Googles recent lobbying efforts. Some say this may be why the Feds are considering cookies. Googles 3rd party cookies reside on Whitehouse.gov via YouTube video. The entire issue requires a bit more transparency for all those involved.
Advertisers have long known that cookies customize a users experience to their likes. The government seems to be getting into the customization business to get closer to the people. Which, if that's their motivation is a great thing.
As stated previously privacy advocates don't like this because government is known to overstep their boundaries and can be difficult to pull back the reins once they've taken these steps.
Some fundamentals to keep yourself secure:
- Lock down your PCs. Make sure your McAfee Internet security software is up to date. Install spyware removal software. Lock down your wireless connection. Use strong passwords that include upper and lowercase letters as well as numbers. And never share passwords.
- Invest in Intelius Identity theft protection and prevention. Not all forms of identity theft can be prevented, but identity theft protection services can dramatically reduce your risk.
- Get a credit freeze. Go to ConsumersUnion.org and follow the steps for your particular state. In most cases, this prevents new accounts from being opened in your name.
- Get CCleaner a freeware system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files including cookies from your system - allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more