Google cookie expiration plans called 'worthless'

The company has touted the idea as improving privacy

Google's plans to shorten the life-span of cookies installed on a user's computer, ostensibly to improve user privacy, is being dismissed by some as complete hype.

Apart from making it appear that the company is taking steps to address growing privacy concerns related to its data storing habits, in reality, the move changes very little they said.

"No users will experience any gains in privacy at all due to Google's change in policy," said Randy Abrams, director of technical education at ESET, a vendor of antivirus products based in San Diego. "It's not a bad idea. It's just a worthless one. (Google's announcement either) demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about the role cookies can play in privacy, or else utter contempt for the intellect of Google users."

In a blog post on Monday, Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said that in the coming months the company will start issuing user cookies that will be set to auto-expire after two years. Currently the cookies set by Google on a user's computer are designed to expire in 2038 -- unless users set their browsers to delete them sooner, he said

"After listening to feedback from our users and from privacy advocates, we've concluded that it would be a good thing for privacy to significantly shorten the lifetime of our cookies," Fleischer said.

But the fact that Google's cookies will auto-renew every time a user visits a Google web site completely negates any affect the move might have had, Abrams said. Only users who do not return to Google for two years will have their cookies auto-expire after that period. In all other cases, cookies will auto-renew and reset their life-spans with each visit to a Google site.

Consequently the move has no effect on Google's existing privacy posture, said Pete Lindstrom an analyst with the Burton Group. "As far as I can tell, there's going to be no change to the effective level of their intrusiveness, which I don't think is too significant in the first place. Maybe they want to get a little bit of privacy press."

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google's plans to shorten the life-span of its cookies come amid growing concerns, especially in the European Union (EU), about its data retention policies. In June, Privacy International, a global privacy advocacy group, placed Google at the bottom of a list of 23 internet companies for "comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy."

In June Google announced that it would anonymize its search server logs, including IP addresses and cookie ID numbers after 18 months. That move was in response to a letter sent in May by the EU's Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, which expressed concerns about the length of time Google stores information in its search server logs.

The letter, addressed to Fleischer, noted that server logs contain information that could be linked to an identified or identifiable person and therefore come under the purview of European data protection laws. In the same letter, the EU group also expressed concern about the 30-year life span of the cookies that Google installs on user systems. The letter noted that the Google's cookie lifespan was "disproportionate" to its stated purpose of storing user preference information.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?