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JARGON BUSTER: Cookie sniffing

  Melanie Seasons, Online FireWhat does that mean?

A way to capture HTTP/HTTPS traffic in real-time through tracing and displaying a wide range of browse data including time spent, cookies, query strings, post data and request and response stream for consumer tracking purposes.

And in English?

When companies track your movements online by monitoring your cookies or by placing cookies of their own. They can use this information to directly target you with appropriate marketing messages relevant to your online surfing habits.

Where does it come from?

Cookies are used on many sites to share or store information for further use. Every time you're asked if you want to save a password or username so that you don't have to enter it again, a cookie is created. Cookie sniffers are programs that search, plant or ‘sniff out' cookies on your computer to find out your habits online - for example, what sites you visit and for how long.

What does it mean for my business (what are the marketing implications)?

On the plus side, it means that you can learn more about your consumer base by understanding what they're looking for.  On the negative side, cookie sniffers are largely looked upon as an invasion of privacy. There are many sites that offer software downloads to specifically block cookie sniffer programs.

What do I need to do about it?

You need to decide if using a cookie sniffer is right for your company. Think about your objectives and if there are any other less invasive ways to get results like a monitoring campaign, survey or focus group.

How or where do I find out more?

If you're interested in purchasing a program, you can check out QArchive.org, which has a rundown of what's available.

Jargon rating: [star rating out of five]

4 out 5. Even though it's not that exciting of a term, it still has a bit of mystery to it.  You're not likely to find a novice Internet surfer who knows what a cookie is, let alone a cookie sniffer!

Is it a paradigm shift or just another TLA?

Neither. Unlike those annoying ‘flash-in-the-pan' terms, this one has staying power. However, it doesn't present any eye-popping concepts. It's a simple way of describing a practise that is probably much more common than people think.