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Who Needs Cookies?

colin

08 September 2022

5 min

some cookies, the tasty kind, not the kind you'd find on the web

All cookies are not made equal. Mojeek has always used zero-party cookies. Now we offer you a truly cookieless option.

Google may not be in the same league as Apple when it comes to privacy-washing but they are trying. You'll read articles constantly referring to a "Cookieless" future, as Google promotes its dropping of third-party cookies. Which incidentally they have just pushed back again and now to 2024. But cookieless it is not, as we shall try to explain before detailing the new option in Mojeek.

Third, First and Zero Party

Anybody reading this has likely heard about third and first party cookies. You'll likely be aware of the adtech battles and posturing around this topic. Still it's worth a reminder what exactly these terms refer to. Of course, cookies store data on your device, so let's first talk about data and their types:

First-party data: data available to the entity behind the app that you are visiting, through direct interaction with an individual providing or generating the data.

Third-party data: data available to an entity that is not necessarily behind the app you are visiting, and thus obtained not through direct interaction with the individual providing or generating the data. The data might be obtained through business partners, data-sharing agreements, data exchanges and notably platform products such as browsers. Digital firms that do not have a direct relationship with users frequently rely on third-party data; for example someone without a Google account using Chrome.

If you want to learn more about the murky world of cookies, check out CookiePro's Knowledge Base.

Now there is a third form of data, zero party, that is not heard so often, and you can guess why.

Zero-party data: data that an individual voluntarily and knowingly shares with the entity behind an app. This might includes preferences, wishes, or interests of that individual. Unlike first-party data, it's not based on inference, so is more accurate, contextual, and more relevant to that specific individual.

Data Usage, Collection and Transfer

Let's now move on to how cookie data might be used, and importantly what happens with it. The ways data are used are myriad, and evolving notably with increasing uses of surveillance and AI. But here are a few examples which relate to search:

  • The data can, and will often, be used to provide the individual using the app with the response they requested. For example, in Mojeek you provide us with a search query (data) and we return search results.
  • The data can, and will often, be used to provide the individual using the app with a response in a form they prefer. For example, in Mojeek you provide us with a search query (data), and for example specify in preferences that you: want snippet lengths of 256 characters, and don't want to see the Infobox, and we return search results compliant with those preferences without any knowledge or interest in who you are. You might also get a response that is not fully in your control. For example, in Google you provide a search query (data), and they may use personal data (inferred or not), to provide search results which reflect how they choose to show them to you ("personalisation").
  • The data might be sold, shared or passed on to other parties. For example, in search proxies/services the search query (data) is passed onto Google/Microsoft who return not only search results, to a search proxy/service but also sometimes the search ads that Google/Microsoft decide to pass on to display to you through that search proxy/service.

But this was a digression into the wider topic of data, and before this turns into a rant about current and future uses of personal data, let's get back to cookies.

Mojeek Zero-Party Cookie

Since we don't use first-party or third-party cookies at Mojeek, we are far from being experts. So if you want to know how others use them, notably big tech browsers, adtech and publishers, then, this article is useful and up-to-date at the time of writing. And if you prefer to consume video, this is a decent one on what cookies are, and how they can be used for tracking.

How do we use zero-party cookies at Mojeek? Put simply we let you control your Mojeek experience by using the Preferences menu. The selections you make and save here are put into a zero-party cookie, which is stored locally on your device. We use this data (your preferences) when you send a search query to us, so we can send back the results in the form you prefer. We also use it in other cases, for instance the data would be used to change the display of all pages to Dark Mode.

The process is completely transparent and voluntary. If you know how to you can look at the data in the cookies which are on your device. Even easier we created a page where you can inspect your current Mojeek cookie settings in plain English.

Now you might want to take an extra security step and not store this cookie on your device. How do you then tell Mojeek about your preferences? And what if you want to transport your settings to another device (e.g. from desktop to mobile). Since Mojeek has no login, we can't use that. Both of these things can be achieved using our new Cookieless option.

Truly Cookieless Mojeek

In this new optional mode you can express all your preferences using parameters in a URL. Suppose you have changed the Mojeek default Preferences by specifying that you want to:

  • Set snippet length to 256 characters (&dlen=256)
  • Set search Choice buttons as Ecosia and Startpage (&qss=Ecosia,Startpage)
  • Set the maximum results per domain as 2 (&si=2)

This is the cookieless URL you can create in, and copy from, the Preferences menu and then save or share as you wish:

https://www.mojeek.com/?&dlen=256&qss=Ecosia,Startpage&si=2

a screenshot of the new Mojeek cookieless preferences, showing a modification to location, snippet length, search choice buttons, and maximum results per domain

Who needs cookies after all? You or them?

Discuss on: community.mojeek reddit

colin

08 September 2022

5 min

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