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Old 15th August 2005, 23:36   #1
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Default Spyware heats up the debate over cookies

Internet users are taking back control of their computers, and online marketers and publishers are not pleased with the results. But they don't quite know what to do about their conundrum--if it is a conundrum, since they can't even agree on that.

Until recently, Internet businesses could track their users freely, using what are known as cookies, tiny text files they embed on the user's hard drive. Now, with the proliferation of anti-spyware programs that can delete unwanted cookies, merchants often cannot tell who has been to their Web sites before or what they have seen. And this erosion of control over a tool for gaining insight into consumer behavior has many of them fretting.

"Cookies are critical from a business perspective," said Lorraine Ross, vice president for sales at USAToday.com. "They help us do things like track our profitability per unique visitor, for instance. But if you don't know how many people are coming in, you don't really have a handle on whether your profitability is improving or not."

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