Third-party cookies and the fight for personal data: Planet Money: NPR

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Housing Works

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 14: Chocolate chunk cookies from Butter are served during Housing Works taste of home 2017 on June 14, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Housing Works)

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Housing Works

Internet cookies do a lot of things. They allow people to sign in to websites. They make internet comments possible. And, yes, cookies are also the thing that lets advertisers follow users around the internet to serve them ads based on their previous searches.

This is not how their inventor, Lou Montulli, intended things to go. In fact, Montulli specifically designed cookies to protect people’s anonymity as they surfed the web. But in the nearly thirty years since he created them, Montulli has watched cookies completely remake the way commerce on the internet functions. His invention went from an obscure piece of code designed to hide users’ identities, to an online advertiser’s dream, to a privacy advocate’s nightmare, unleashing a corporate arms race to extract as much of our digital data as possible.

On today’s show, how the cookie became a monster. Why have the world’s biggest internet browsers finally decided to let the cookie crumble – to make cookies largely disappear from the internet? And what will a world wide web without cookies even look like?

Music:Fruit salad“,”Skulking Around“,” and “blue and green.”

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