James Wiegel, CUGG
The way I see it, if you want to get the maximum benefit from the Internet you'll have to surrender a little bit of that precious personal information to get it. After all, isn't that what e-business is being built on? It's all about demographics. When you connect to a web site, they usually log connection-oriented information, such as your IP address and the pages that you visited. They'll try to distinguish if you're new or a repeat visitor. That's part of where cookies come in. They help the site recognize you. They can do it without cookies, but it's not always easy for them, and when you're doing something like shopping on line the site needs a "reliable" way to keep your information organized, and connected to you. Hopefully they will have served you so well; you'll WANT to come back!
The typical cookie is rather harmless. By design, all that the cookie can do is identify that you've been to the site before, and pass a unique identifier (or cookie) back to the server. Any other information that this may be connected to is because you WILLINGLY provided it. Maybe you signed up for the million-dollar giveaway, or you had to fill out some registration form before downloading a great piece of freeware. How could they invade your privacy when you GAVE it to them? They probably had a link nearby that gave details of how they use the information; have you ever read those privacy disclaimers? All they are doing is using this wonderful computer technology to better serve themselves and you through demographics and personalized settings.
I will admit that if/when companies start sharing and combining the information that they've managed to collect through these methods, business ethics have been compromised. We've already seen companies [that have been caught using intrusive methods other than cookies]. These methods are usually downloaded because they look like fun Internet applications (I think an animated cursor program did it once). Usually this information harvesting ability will be mentioned in the license agreement, but even if you read the whole thing you may not catch it because of the tricky legal wording (they try to cover their rears you know).
The best defense against these "dark arts" of the net is to run programs like zone alarm and/or opt-out from Steve Gibson's site at www.grc.com. He keeps his eyes open for these things, and he loves to share his findings with anyone that will sign up to his mail list.
After its all said and done, is it so bad for these e-businesses to have a competitive edge that allows them to serve you better, and to sell you things that you want and can afford?