EU cookie laws could cause unwary firms to get their fingers burnt

Feeling bored and listless? Well, try this. In Firefox, open “preferences”, click on the “privacy tab” and then click on the link that says “remove individual cookies”. Up will pop a dialogue box labelled “cookies”, which tells you that “the following cookies are stored in your computer”. If you’re an intensive user of the web, it will be a very long, scrolling list. On my laptop, for example, Amazon has deposited 29 cookies, YouTube nine and Google a whopping 53. (For instructions for how to inspect cookies in other browsers, see the NetLingo site.)Cookies are small text files, typically of letters and numbers, downloaded on to a computer when its user accesses a website. The first thing to say about them is that they do not make for bedside reading. For example, one of my Amazon cookies begins with the phrase “%20s_dl%3D1%7C131818459” and goes on like that for four and a half lines. To Amazon’s web server, however, this gibberish is riveting stuff because it provides useful information about how I use the site. Maybe it reveal details of my browsing history. Or provides information about what I bought recently. The point is that I can’t tell how the cookie crumbles: that’s something that only Amazon knows.

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