Walt Mossberg’s WSJ Column on Cookies

July 15, 2005


Walt Mossberg’s WSJ Column on Cookies

Walt Mossberg wrote this in the Wall Street Journal. So, here’s the email I sent him:

Hi Walt,

As a responsible journalist whose column informs, educates and inflences many non-techies about technology, I think you do a great disservice to your readers through columns like the 7/14 one on cookies. I would not have minded the column so much if you had given even play to cookies used for storing preferences versus tracking cookies. Instead you allocate a couple of sentences to the latter while going on and on about how bad tracking cookies are. This is just irresponsible, plain and simple because it causes the average, non-technical user to do things like disable cookies altogether in their browser. Well, guess what, Walt, that messes up a LOT of web applications. And increase the support burden on websites. And impacts businesses and their ability to provide online services to their customers. And results in frustrated customers, who blame the business, when they really should be blaming Mr. Mossberg.

What would be helpful is if you were more objective in your characterization. For instance, “Cookies are small text files that Web-site operators — and third-party companies that insert ads into Web sites — place on a user’s computer.” could easily have been written as “Cookies are a browser feature that websites can use to store a small piece of information on your computer that is retrievable only by that website.”

I don’t have a problem with people in positions of influence stating their opinions. But they do have a responsibility to their audience. How can you make a statement like this:

“Until that happens, here is my advice: If you don’t like the idea of tracking cookies, run an antispyware program that detects and removes them, along with all the other indefensible computer code some companies think they have the right to install. After all, it is your computer.”

Do you seriously believe that your average user is capable of making an informed decision when their antispyware program prompts them “Remove XYZ cookie. Yes/No? How do you reckon the user can distinguish between what’s a tracking cookie and what’s an authentication cookie?

Get a clue, Walt, and please stop feeding the paranoia.


Nik Kalyani

P.S.: You should consider getting the WSJ site to not use cookies. People in glass houses and all that…

Edit: Walt, obviously disagrees. Here’s his emailed response:

Wow. I can’t even begin to say how wrong you are. First, I am an opinion columnist, paid to be subjective. Second, the column wasn’t about cookies as a whole, but one type of cookie that is a form of spyware. Third, despite your claims, I was very careful to say that many other cookies are beneficial, and to give examples. Finally, if you ever used antispyware software, you’d know that it never even detects most cookies, and never asks the user about them. It only detects tracking cookies. I have never seen an antispyware program remove a cookie that stores login prefs, for instance.

I stand by my column 100%.

Walt Mossberg
Personal Technology Columnist
The Wall Street Journal
We’ll just have to agree to disagree then.

Co-founder/CTO WhenHub; co-founder DNN Software; founder Edaptable; educator; Open Source proponent; Microsoft MVP; tech geek; creative thinker; husband; dad. Personal blog: http://www.kalyani.com. Twitter: @techbubble
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