You Must Fear the Cookie Monster!

by on August 21, 2009 · 20 comments

This clip from Fox News shows why more reporters need to contact the experts here at TLF:

The “security expert” being interviewed in the clip, Robert Siciliano, doesn’t seem to understand what cookies do. He claims that “cookies closest cousin is spyware.” Siciliano also implies that the Obama Administration might somehow be in league with Google to gather our private information.

I think there may be some valid concerns with cookies being implemented on certain government sites, but this sort of hyperbole only feeds into the baseless fears that already exist about technology.

I should note that Judge Andrew Napolitano provides some interesting analysis on the topic after the Siciliano interview, which is included in the clip.

Hat tip: dvorak.org/blog

  • http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~tblee Tim Lee

    Great post. Looking at the guy's website, there's no evidence that he has any knowledge or background in IT issues.

  • http://angrydictator.com PJ Doland

    Of course the U.S. government and the Obama Administration are in league with Google to gather our private information. Do you really think Google hasn't received National Security Letters forcing them to comply with any and all requests made by the NSA for the integration of surveillance systems?

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    If this Siciliano character was a legitimate security analyst he would not have demonized cookies as some sort of inherently nefarious technology. Second, he would have explained that there are many privacy-enhancing tools out there on the market today that people can use to shield their personal information or digital footprints. Third, he wouldn't be concocting wild-eyed conspiracy theories about this all being some sort of plot by Google to co-opt the White House as an information-collection agent. What utter rubbish, but I guess that's to be expected in an age of “Googlephobia.”

    I have zero respect for self-labeled “Internet security” or “child safety” experts who are in the business of using fear-based tactics and a techno-panic mentality to sell books or their consulting services. Shame on you, sir.

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    A lot of the fault here lies with Cavuto's staff not doing the necessary background check on this guy. Even someone who doesn't have much technical expertise should be able to vet someone as an expert by seeing where they have been published, if they've ever testified on the issue, or through some other sort of endorsement.

    Though I don't watch his show very often, Cavuto seems like one of the more serious and hard-working people on Fox News, so this interview was a surprise to me.

  • http://angrydictator.com PJ Doland

    I'll admit that cookies are a bit of a red herring, as IP logging presents many of the same issues. I'll also concede that this Siciliano doesn't seem to know what he's talking about.

    To be clear, I'm not worried about Google collecting and aggregating user information to enhance their targeted advertising offerings.

    But I am terrified that the information Google collects will serve as a one-stop shopping center for our three-letter agencies monitoring private communications at home and abroad. It's just too tempting for the intelligence community when know all this information is already gathered in one place.

  • http://angrydictator.com PJ Doland

    On a sidenote, there are quite a few sketchy things government websites could do quite easily by using cookies and IP address logging, and it's not unreasonable to be concerned about the possibilities.

    Just off the top of my head… The IRS could trigger automatic tax audits for taxpayers who may have visited specific pages on an IRS website before filing a return electronically (e.g. anybody who may have reviewed penalties or fines for making fraudulent deductions in advance of filing probably deserves a “closer look”).

  • RobertSiciliano

    This Siciliano character is me:). First, Ive never claimed to be a computer security expert. I know more than 90 percent of what the the masses know and less than 10 percent of what the experts know. My game is personal security as it relates to violence and identity theft prevention. And before you all go demonizing a simple 3 minute talk, I was being objective. I was helping the commentator sort this out. I was talking about what privacy advocates fear, not myself. I'm no privacy advocate. Requests to appear in front of a nationwide audience of non-techies generally requires to the commentator to associate an unknown with a known. Most people dont speak the tech language and need something to associate with. I specifically said that cookies aren't spyware. “They are spywares closest cousin.” which is what privacy advocates fear. It may have satisfied you all a bit more if I said spywares 10th cousin, but when you are in this environment and the clock is ticking, sometimes one forgets all their talking points or things don't always come out exactly correct. So forgive me, forgive my offspring, and forgive the non techies for not knowing what you know. Thanks for this post, thanks for setting the record straight and thanks for keeping me and everyone else honest.
    Robert Siciliano CEO IDTheftSecurity.com

  • MikeRT

    Robert,

    That does not change the fact that your characterization of cookies was sensationalist. The way that cookies behave is not conducive to tracking across the federal government. Just getting the Department of Defense to play ball would be a debacle for Obama because of the sheer number of agencies he would have to gather together.

  • RobertSiciliano

    In this post Ive read “character” “implies'' “hyperbole only feeds into the baseless fears” “demonized ” “concocting wild-eyed conspiracy theories “”utter rubbish””self-labeled” “fear-based tactics and a techno-panic mentality” “Shame” and “hyperbolic”. And ya'll want to tell me I'm “sensationalist”. Look in the mirror boys. You're treading on Perez Hilton grounds here.

    I made an analogy that provides perspective to an audience that otherwise has none, pointing out what “privacy advocates fear”. I could give a crap that cookies are in govt websites. I love cookies. Makes my life a lot easier. And their yummy. The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are the ones freaking out and maybe suing, not me. I was explaining their concerns, not mine.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    This is a “non-story”. Virtually every website uses cookies. So why should it evil for the government to use cookies but not evil for others? If we are going to rant against the government use of cookies, we should also be ranting against the use of cookies by all others too. True, cookies allow the user to be tracked; but their are benefits to the user – such as the simplicity to login to a website. Let's face it, when you visit a webiste, no matter who owns it, you are giving up a certain degree of personal information.

  • Assmar

    Aren't all browsers equipped with security options which will automatically reject or notify the user if a website even attempts to store a “cookie” on said user's computer? Not that I use it, because I don't give a flying fuck about cookies, but still, an informed consumer has options, that's some free market shit right there.

  • Assmar

    Aren't all browsers equipped with security options which will automatically reject or notify the user if a website even attempts to store a “cookie” on said user's computer? Not that I use it, because I don't give a flying fuck about cookies, but still, an informed consumer has options, that's some free market shit right there.

    This guy isn't real, he's one of those Yes Men, isn't he?

  • Assmar

    Aren't all browsers equipped with security options which will automatically reject or notify the user if a website even attempts to store a “cookie” on said user's computer? Not that I use it, because I don't give a flying fuck about cookies, but still, an informed consumer has options, that's some free market shit right there.

    This guy isn't real, he's one of those Yes Men, isn't he?

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