California-based engineer and entrepreneur Lou Montulli said in a conversation with AFP, cited by Japan Today, that the “cookie” he created was intended to make the online environment easier by letting websites remember visitors.
In fact, nowadays the cookie technology has been attacked for helping tech companies to collect data on consumers’ habits key to the targeted web ad business that makes many billions of dollars per year. Montulli, who created them in 1994 while an engineer at Netscape, commented:
“My invention is at the technological heart of many of the advertising schemes, but it was not intended to be so. It is simply a core technology to enable the web to function.”
Many tech giants have already joined a growing list of companies by announcing a new plan to block certain types of cookies. Concerning this, Montulli said the software snippets that let a website recognize individuals helped make possible features such as automatic log-ins or remembering the contents of e-commerce shopping carts. He also noted that there is a problem with so-called “third-party” cookies- those generated by websites and tucked into visitors’ browsers, and ad networks that aggregate data from those snippets. Montulli also commented:
“If you search on some strange niche product and then you get bombarded with ads for that product at several websites, that is a weird experience. It is normal human pattern recognition to think if they know I was looking for blue suede shoes, they must know everything about me; then think I want to get out of this. It’s a network effect of all these different websites colluding together with the ad trackers. Cookies were originally designed to provide privacy.”
Montulli pointed out that one possible response would be to stop targeting ads and start charging subscriptions for online services. He adds that he supports phasing out third-party cookies, but warned getting rid of the software snippets altogether would drive advertisers to employ more stealthy tactics.
Montulli concluded that regulation that keeps cookies in use, mandating controls such as letting users opt-in or out of sharing data, might be the only viable long-term solution.