Is the end of cookies nigh?

With the recent news that Google has managed to slip past Safari’s privacy policy, you may well be wondering if cookies are just a little too intrusive to be trusted. Every day we trust our web browser to manage so much personal data; and it seems the more we share, the less secure things become.

For Internet advertisers, Cookies are obviously a valuable asset as they allow targeted ads to reach the right people. Without them, there would be no way to establish a segmented market audience. I know I’d be upset if my history of fitness related searches stopped yielding masses of diet pill ads (seriously Google, I just want some running tips.)

Enter Hiro, a Tel Aviv based company which has come up with a way to work without cookies and still target ads accurately. Their method of ‘URL sniffing’—which admittedly doesn’t sound as appetising as ‘cookies’—aims to remove the need for cookies which track your entire Internet history and search preferences. Instead, they target ads based on what you’re looking at right now. Their patent pending method of placing ads targets them based on the content of the page you’re currently on, which is established by ‘sniffing’ the URL.

So, if you’re browsing the Grey’s Anatomy episode guide website, the sniffer would assume that you’re 18-35 and female. Likewise, if you’re checking out the price of the latest Call of Duty game, you’d see ads targeted at men.

URL sniffing of this kind is still in the early stages, if you throw a quick search for it into Google, it seems the word is currently synonymous with snooping. So it could be a fairly appropriate replacement for cookies.

My initial thought is that this would be very unpopular for website owners; would the targeted ads not just be from your competition? What do you think?

Are cookies a useful perk, or an unwanted invasion of privacy?  And do we need a new way of targeting ads?