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Explaining Third Party Cookies

Report #1 from the Mozilla Collusion Design Team.

Last week we had to explain what third party cookies were all about. Turns out it isn't as simple as it looks! After some discussion with Dethe, the main developer for Collusion, we developed a basic grasp of third party cookies, how they function, and how they can be used to track your behaviour across the web.

Voila, sketches from last week:

If you're still wondering what a "cookie" is, then:

A cookie is a small piece of text (not a file on it's own) that acts like a name tag or ID number. Cookies come from websites (you usually get one when you visit a website for the first time), but they're stored inside your web browser. Cookies get passed from your browser to the website you're visiting, every time you visit it.

Why? Because websites can't tell who you are, what you did last, or even if you've been there before when you browse it, unless it has more information like a cookie. The website can look at the cookie your browser has, and match it to the information it has stored about you and your last visit.

Now, the website can customize it's response based on who you are. This is the reason we can put things in an online shopping cart, or have a news feed that looks different from someone else's. In this sense, a cookie sort of acts like a key.

If you're still with me, there's a bit more:

What Collusion addresses is the issue of Third Pary Cookies. These are the cookies that make it onto your browser indirectly, usually through a website you've visited. How? Probably through an ad, or a web beacon.

There is a huge business built on the very fact that information, information about your browsing habits may = big money. Finding out how to sell things to you is a cash cow, and some businesses make it their mission to build profiles about people, and profit from it in various ways. The way that's done, is through cookies. Sounds scary right? Not all of them are, but some cases can be quite alarming.

Hopefully this will tide you over for now. If you get curious, find out more from the internet!


We then regrouped to develop our sketches into fully fledged infographics. Amber, our team lead, helped us break the issue of cookies down into four categories so that we could each follow our own exploration of the issues surrounding third party cookies.

A. The good and bad sides of personalization using third party cookies

B. How the Facebook "like" button is tracking you

C. How cookies work in online advertising

D. The unintended consequences of embedded content & Google Analytics

We show our work to each other in the next meeting. I trust there will be some exciting findings and insights to share!


A taste of what's to come:

Collusion will also begin to roll out small updates to prime people for changes down the road. Currently though, we're still thinking of designs for a Collusion T-Shirt… hmm.

And finally, in other news, a campaign was recently launched by advertisers to "bury unfavourable media attention over tracking". Hell-o conflicting interests! Even more evidence toward the necessity for a separate voice that can inform people about tracking so they can make decisions themselves!

Welcome to SIM Centre

The Social + Interactive Media Centre is a new research centre that supports a wide range of applied social, interactive and design projects. Funded by a 5-year grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the centre offers BC companies a way to tap the design, creative and technical expertise of Emily Carr faculty and students.