Browsers and Third-Party Cookies

Browsers and Third-Party Cookies

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I. Introduction
While third party cookies enable new web functionalities it also enables new risks exposure of a person’s web history. A person’s web history can inevitably reveal personal information which if exploited could lead to bad stuff(job opp/id theft/deals/black mail/embarassement). Thus, privacy should not be an option, it should be the default. Accordingly, browsers should disable third-party cookies by default; require users to "opt-in" to 3rd-party cookies).
II. How third party cookie works and the underlying web economics
Third party cookies enables single-sign-on authentication (e.g. Facebook Login), web analytics (e.g. Google Analytics), and third-party advertisements [1].3rd-party cookies enable 'third parties' - websites other than those the user explicitly visits in their browser's address bar or sees on their screen - to record the user's browsing history. The third party can then archive, analyse, and/or trade, sell the information they've recorded [2]. If a first-party website is untrustworthy, users may decline to visit it. But, since users are unaware of the very existence of many third-party websites, they cannot reward responsible sites and penalize irresponsible sites. Thus, Risks associated with third-party tracking are heightened by the lack of market pressure to exercise good security and privacy practices


Figure 1: A list of third party tracking sites on http://www.wired.com (Disconnect)

III. Arguments for opt-in policy
Enabling 3rd party cookies by default can cause a number of security and privacy concerns.
First, the information might be intentionally or inadvertently leaked out, causing physical, psychological or economic harm to the user. For example, a disgruntled employee of an online marketing firm might sell its tracking information to unscrupulous marketers, releasing. In 2011, Epsilon Data Management LLC had hackers had accessed names and email addresses in its systems. In the days that followed, more than 40 companies—including J.P. Morgan Chase, TiVo and others—have said that their customers were among the victims [2].

Secondly, majority of consumers are not willing to be tracked. According to a TRUSTe and Harris Interactive online survey [3], 78% of respondents would not consent to website analytics tracking, 85% would not consent to web browsing tracking for relevant ad, and 54% does not like. [4] When the options are available, 68% refuse to allow companies to share their information with a third party and 52% say that they choose to opt out of online behavioral advertising.

Finally, there is precedence for this opt-in decision. In 2009 the European Union passed the E-Privacy Directive legislation which required websites to acquire visitor consent before they could install cookies [5].

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"Browsers and Third-Party Cookies." 123HelpMe.com. 18 Feb 2019
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IV. Arguments against opt-out policy
Proponents of an opt-out policy usually have the following arguments.

First, they claim it will break the advertising supported model of internet companies [6]. However, according to Mayer [7] there are many ways to mitigate the advertising such as Adnostic [8] and Google Ads Preferences.

Second, they claim users could always opt-out at their leisure. However, the procedure to opt-out is usually too complicated to people, and the leagaleses is too hard to understand [10]. According to TRUSTe Research and Harris Interactive poll [3] Only 37% respondents consistently Take Steps To Protect Their Protecting Personal Information Online and 26% don't really know how to protect my personal information online. Despite Its Recent Launch only 5% Recall Seeing The Advertising Option Icon.

Third, they say Targeted marketing enables user to get more personalized advertisements. However, according to a 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll [9] 61% think the use of targeted ad to keep cost down is not justified, 67% thought does not think targeted advertisement should be allowed and only 14% would allow all advertising networks to target ads specifically.

Finally, they say the tracking data is anonymous. However, the tracking data could be correlated through various means such as when first party sells its user identity [11]. But according to Narayanan [12] browsing histories are pseudonymous and can be used for user identification.
V. Summary
Given the popular opnion and the harms that a security breach could bring. I would advocate the United States government should advocate an opt-in policy to third party cookies requiring browsers to disable third-party cookies by default. As a means to protect the privacy and and well being of its citizens.

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