Zombie cookies: cookies that just won't die
11 Apr 2019
You may already know a decent amount about what cookies are because of this other article that we wrote. If you haven’t read it yet and don’t have time, there are two simple facts about cookies that you should know:
- First simple fact: cookies track your browsing habits so that companies can serve you targeted ads and sell you things
- Second simple fact: you can delete them if you want
- Oh, what a surprise, there’s a secret third fact: you, uh… actually can’t delete all of them…
Yes that’s right, cookies that come back to life after you kill them. In other words, zombie cookies. Yuk… the un-dead.
Okay so, imagine you’re a wizard (stay with me here). You’re in your wizard lair doing wizard things and you accidentally create a ‘tomorrow ball’. It’s a cool crystal ball that can predict what will happen tomorrow. You’re a powerful wizard, and this tomorrow ball is a powerful tool - if people weren’t scared of you already, they definitely are now.
After not too long, you open your secret wizard cabinet and find that your tomorrow ball has been destroyed. What a shocker. You didn’t need a tomorrow ball to predict this. Your enemies think they’re SO smart (they’re not). You, a superior wizard, always write everything down. That means you have detailed notes on exactly how you made the tomorrow ball. Boom, you make another tomorrow ball in five minutes.
Right I know it’s really fun but stop pretending to be a wizard for a second. What you’ve done with your tomorrow ball is exactly what companies do with zombie cookies. When they serve you the cookie, they are also sure to drop in information about the cookie somewhere else. Let’s call this piece of information the ‘cookie recipe’. If a cookie get’s deleted, it really doesn’t matter because the recipe still exists. So, why not just delete the recipe too? Sure, okay…
Be your wizard self again: knowing full well the notes on the tomorrow-ball could be stolen too, you hide the notes in a secret nook of the crystal dimension. To get to the crystal dimension you simply go through a portal. But you have to open the portal with a complex spell in a dead language. Also the portal is hidden in some enchanted woods somewhere. Also the only maps of the woods live in a giant library on a really steep scary mountain. Good lord, that’s a lot of barriers, isn’t it? Not for you. You’re a wizard.
Okay, that’s enough wizarding for now - this isn’t Pottermore. Hopefully you see my point: we don’t have wizards in the real world (sorry); just companies making extra sure their cookies don’t get deleted. I mean, if the average consumer spent enough time digging and researching, they could probably figure out where most of the recipes are hidden, but what’s the likelihood of anyone bothering to do that? There’s no wikihow for getting to the crystal dimension, sorry.
This is what companies such as Verizon are banking on. And it doesn’t stop at the crystal dimension. There are cookie recipes stored in every conceivable dimension, in every conceivable way. What if instead of written down as a recipe in plain English, they suddenly turned around and said, “what would this recipe look like if it was realised as a landscape oil painting?”. Yep, that exists. What if it was realised as a flash of light? They’ve definitely tried that. What if it was hidden within an hour-long podcast about tomatoes? Sure, why not. These recipes aren’t just well hidden - they’re practically unrecognisable.
The technology that makes zombie cookies work has been around for ages, it just wasn’t always used in these ways. There has been legal action against companies employing the use of zombie cookies as long ago as 2010, and as recently as last year.
The zombie cookie is a perfect example of what happens when you have a gross imbalance of knowledge between you, the average consumer, and the people trying to sell you things. They are the wizards, and we are just subject to their magic spells.