Any resemblance between what web browser Netscape had in mind when it invented cookies as a way of preserving information between HTTP sessions and the pain they cause every time we enter a web page is surely just a coincidence. The good news is that there might be light at the end of the tunnel, and cookies as we know them might finally be history.
Let’s be honest, the whole thing is beyond a joke: having to deal with a huge consent form every time we open a page, with dozens of buttons, endless lists of partners and terms of service, is simply ridiculous, and has been abused in all sorts of ways because virtually no one understands what they are or not agreeing to.
Apple and Tim Cook’s prolonged offensive in defense of privacy as a fundamental right is paying off. If anyone has demonstrated its ability to exercise leadership, it’s Apple, and on this issue, moreover, it is very keen to be imitated: more and more browsers have been incorporating cookie control, until Google finally decided, with some reservations, to join the cause and announce changes in the next version of Chrome aimed at bringing rampant third-party cookies under control — there were pages where the number of cookies and trackers generated on access was simply insane — and to develop new systems to improve user privacy in the digital advertising environment. After withstanding pressure from advertisers, the company has announced that it will stop using browsing history data to manage advertising, and that it is also willing to work on developing a “privacy-first web”, starting with a promise not to develop alternative tracking tools to those it is now eliminating.
This leaves Facebook in the uncomfortable situation of being (surprise, surprise) the bad guy. Mark Zuckerberg’s company continues to defend its virtually limitless exploitation of its users’ privacy and hyper-targeted advertising: what’s more, it believes it can convince us we want personalized ads. Its duel with Apple has gotten personal, with Facebook claiming it is supposedly defending small and medium-sized businesses against a big bad Apple that wants to block its access to users.
In practice, Facebook’s model only makes sense for marketing managers who believe it represents the best sniper they have ever had and who, victims of a Stockholm syndrome that leads them to pay more and more money to the company, self-inject traffic and relevance like a junkie injecting heroin, while they play at convincing themselves that they are great professionals thanks to the use of irrelevant and wrong indicators.
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The industry created around data, with its huge court of parasites feeding off a business that, in reality, has never demonstrated its true differential value, is beginning to crumble, in what could be defined as the end of an era on the web. Possibly the best definition of the situation was given by John Gruber on his site a few months ago:
“Just because there is now a multi-billion-dollar industry based on the abject betrayal of our privacy doesn’t mean the sociopaths who built it have any right whatsoever to continue getting away with it.”
The sooner the cycle of lies and stupidity that led to us having to specify on every page we visit that we don’t want our browsing data sold to more than 50 or 60 partners who will then pursue us all over the web looks set to end. Let’s hope the web of the future makes a little more sense.