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Are cookies crumbling?

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Web site visitors are more frequently blocking or deleting Web site "cookies," a practice that could have a major impact on publishers' and advertisers' ability to track Web site activity, according to a recently released report from Jupiter Research.

According to the report, as many as 39% of online users could be deleting cookies at least monthly. Overall, 58% of users said they had deleted cookies in the past year.

The challenge for publishers is that cookies are the primary method for tracking unique-user visits to a Web site and their behavior once they arrive, including whether they interact with on-site ads. If site visitors delete cookies, sites will lose the ability to track user behavior over time; if they block them altogether, even short-term measurement capabilities could be compromised, said Jupiter Research analyst Eric Peterson.

"Because personalization, tracking and targeting solutions require cookies to identify Web visitors over multiple sessions, the accuracy of these solutions has become highly suspect, especially over longer periods of time," Peterson said.

While doubts about cookie-based measurements are nothing new, increased concerns over computer viruses and spyware have made users more likely to block or delete anything they find on their system that even suggests the potential for a security or privacy breach.

Solutions to this problem are in the works in some quarters, Peterson said. Some spyware-removal vendors, such as the makers of the popular Spybot, are beginning to provide users with more fine-grained tools for choosing whether to keep or remove cookies found on their machines. And Web analytic vendors are working with customers to be more disciplined in their use of Web site cookies. M

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