Microsoft reportedly wants to replace the cookie

The company is working a tracking technology that would extend to mobile devices and the Xbox, says AdAge. But will the cookie crumble away without a fight?

Lance Whitney
Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
2 min read

Microsoft may be aiming to replace the famous (or infamous) browser cookie with its own brand of tracking technology.

The company is purportedly developing a technology that would track user activity not only on the Web but on Windows-based mobile devices and even the Xbox console, according to AdAge. Citing "sources close to the company not authorized to speak publicly about Microsoft's plans," AdAge said that the technology is in the early stages with no clear time frame as to when it would appear on all devices.

Microsoft didn't quite confirm the news to AdAge but did hint at its overall goal.

"We agree that going beyond the cookie is important," a Microsoft spokesperson told AdAge. "Our priority will be to find ways to do this that respect the interests of consumers."

Cookies have long been employed as a way to record certain user activity at Web sites. Advertisers and other companies rely on them to determine the behavior and preferences of users as a way to target specific ads and other content. However, they pose certain obstacles, at least to the people doing the tracking.

Cookies work only on desktop browsers, so advertisers are unable to record the browsing activity on your phone, tablet, or game console. You can also turn off cookies in the browser, though many Web sites aren't accessible if they're disabled.

Third-party cookies, which are used by advertisers to track your online activities, have also aroused privacy concerns. The major Web browsers all include a do-not-track option that tells advertisers and Web sites not to track you. But not all of them actually follow the rules.

Google reportedly is also working on its own tracking technology that would replace third-party cookies. But for now, they present a dilemma both for users and advertisers.

Still, despite the intentions of Microsoft and Google, I can't see the cookie crumbling away without a fight.

Cookies benefit Web users as well as advertisers. Cookies store usernames and passwords at many sites so you don't have to key them in each time. They're used at e-commerce sites to hold shopping cart information so you can easily check out whenever you want, and they're also used to store Web site settings for a more tailor-made experience.

That's not to say a new and better technology wouldn't be welcome. But it would have to replace all of the positives of browser cookies along with the negatives.