Please, Don’t Trade Your Cookies For Cookies

Please, Don’t Trade Your Cookies For Cookies
Photo: Melica (Shutterstock),Graphic: Shoshana Wodinsky (Gizmodo)
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MSCHF, the Brooklyn-based art collective you might remember from the recent Satanic Shoes debacle featuring Lil Nas X, has a new pitch for you: trade in your digital cookies for real ones.

The conceit of this project is pretty simple: you download the Cooooookies browser extension, which then hangs out in the corner of your browser, and then browse the web as you normally would. The extension keeps tabs on all the cookies and other creepy tech that you accept on these web pages and lets you know how many you’ve opted into — whether you’re aware or not. Whoever racks up the highest number of cookies by the May 3rd deadline wins 45 kg worth of cookies (specifically chocolate chip, per the extension’s terms and conditions).

As of this writing, the champ topping the extension’s leaderboard has apparently guzzled more than 22 million cookies. Some folks on the unofficial MSCHF subreddit have already talked about creating their own cookie bots in order to drive their numbers up, while others are pointing out that nobody should be taking cookies this seriously.

Even though I’m more of a thin mints person myself, I decided to give the program a try — both because I’m kind of Extension Obsessed and because I wanted to see what kind of data was being collected here. The aforementioned terms promised that any cookies collected wouldn’t be analysed or pawned off, and all of the data the extension collected would be stored locally. I didn’t see much going on within the extension cookie-wise, it did ask me to cough up a very valuable piece of intel in order to play: my email address.

The same day that MSCHF rolled out its extension, Apple debuted the latest iOS14 update which — for all sorts of reasons — completely upended the way people get tracked and targeted across the mobile web. And by next year, Google’s determined to kill off cookies in its Chrome browser.

These two tectonic shifts have left the major players in the ad tech industry scrambling for ways to keep tracking and targeting users without their consent in order to keep their multi-billion dollar industry afloat. Collecting hashed email addresses has become a pretty popular choice, albeit one that Apple explicitly outlaws. But that hasn’t stopped pretty much every popular site web-wide from trying to worm their way into your inbox — through newsletters, digital coupons, mandatory registrations, or anything else they can think of.

I’m not saying that Cooooookies is purely a data-mining scheme. But I am saying that MSCHF is a marketing agency, and one with some pretty notable clientele at that. Right now, that clientele wants data, and this extension seems like an easy way to gobble that up. But let’s see what the terms and conditions have to say:

Cooooookies may share information we collect with our business and third party marketing partners. If we share your information, we will request that such third parties treat your information in accordance with this Privacy Policy and refrain from disclosing or using your personally identifiable information for purposes other than for the provision of Services to you or for the benefit of Cooooookies.

While we didn’t notice too much data being slurped by the extension, these terms also note that there’s a chance the extension could — somewhere down the line — be altered, potentially housing pieces of code, or linking to some sort of third-party service. In cases like that, the company notes, you’re collecting cookies “entirely at your own risk.”