Who doesn’t love credit card rewards points? By spending money, you receive "money" back. We’re being rewarded for our rampant consumerism and being encouraged to increase the madness. Ah, the smell of commerce. Anyway, I noticed that our CC has a program by which you can get bonus reward points for each dollar spent. Now, to receive these bonus points, you cannot merely spend your money at the places with which our Fine Institution® has made agreements. Oh no. You have to start your shopping session in their "special" mall.
So, I got to wondering how this was done. And so, a geek challenge was born. I suspected that they set cookies to achieve this tracking. So, I first set my browser to prompt me whenever a website wants to set a cookie. I then cleared all my cookies (you may not want to do this unless you’re really curious. You’ll find yourself setting preferences at each web site you frequent if you clear your cookies). With that done, I left the window that views cookies open, so I could inspect them as they are set.
10 page views and about 50 cookies later, I finally saw the cookie that tells the vendor to notify our Fine Institution® that the purchase was made after visiting their special mall.
This raises a serious problem. Let’s say I’m a paranoid user, and I don’t like cookies being set. In fact, I disable cookies for all sites. I don’t even want to see them. No cookies, no way for the vendor to see that I started off in the special mall. Hmmm. That’s not good. I want my points. So, does our Fine Institution have anything to address this issue? I didn’t see anything on their site, so I’m assuming they do not. I’ll call their customer service when I have a chance and am feeling particularly self-loathing.
Also, what happens if I have a link to said vendor that is specific to myself or my organization? Do I not qualify for the bonus points?
In reality, it’s pretty rare that someone completely disables cookies. It would be very difficult to survive on the modern web without them. I mean, in the few page views within the site of our Fine Institution®, I must have accepted at least 20 different cookies from no less than 5 different IP addresses.
Gone are the days of the stateless web. Yes, HTTP is still a stateless protocol, but the experience sure isn’t anymore.