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Two Improvements to Business.gov

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Two Improvements to Business.gov

By StuartR
Published: November 18, 2010

Would you
like a cookie? If so, it will help
the Business.gov team improve the website. But what is a persistent cookie and how does it affect
you? Persistent cookies are small
pieces of computer code that a webpage puts on your browser. The cookie is then used to measure how
a visitor navigates the website. This might appear as shades of big brother but
our plan is to be anything but.

In AprHappyComputer.jpgil of
2009 we wrote Federal
Cookie Monsters
about the policy that the Office of Management and Budget
put into effect that banned persistent cookies on websites. Since then, much debate has taken place
to determine the best way to improve website experiences without invading
privacy.

The reality
is that cookies can be used to track
a perso;s activity and that can be an invasion of privacy. In order to prevent such intrusiveness,
the Federal government has recently published requirements for those agencies that use
persistent cookies. The
requirements explicitly state that agencies cannot use cookies, or any web
technologies for that matter, to track an individua-s activities.

The
Business.gov team is not interested in your individual activities on the site,
but we would like to improve the average user-experience. To do so, we use persistent cookies to
make two improvements:

1. Limit how often you are invited to
take our satisfaction survey

2. Distinguish between new visitors and
repeat visitors.

Improve the User Satisfaction Survey

You may have
been invited to take a satisfaction survey after viewing several Business.gov
pages. In the past, you could have
taken the survey only to be invited to take it again the next time you returned
to the site. With a persistent
cookie, we can limit the number of times yo-re invited to take the survey to
once a month, whether you actually take the survey or not.

Furthermore,
we had removed the invitation from the Community entirely, because members of
the Community come to Business.gov repeatedly and were offered the invitation
several times a day! Now we are
able to invite Community members to take the survey as well but limit the
invitation to once a month.

When you
receive the invitation to take the survey, a persistent cookie containing a
code with an expiration date is placed on your browser. The next time you visit Business.gov,
your browser is checked to determine if a cookie with that code exists and if
the expiration date has expired.
If the date has not expired, you will not be offered the
invitation. Because the cookie
only contains a code containing an expiration date, the Business.gov team can
never identify you as an individual.

Distinguish Between New Visitors and
Repeat Visitors

Another way
that we measure how well the websit's content satisfies visitors is to measure how much traffic the site
receives
. By distinguishing
new visitors from repeat visitors, the Business.gov team can determine whether
or not the site is valuable enough for visitors to continue to return. In the past, there was no way for us to
make that distinction.

Now, when
you visit Business.gov, a persistent cookie containing a randomly generated ID
code is placed on your browser.
The next time you visit Business.gov, your browser is checked to
determine if that code exists. If
so, you will be counted as a'repeat visito' and if not, you will be counted
as a'new visitor'

Again,
because the cookie only contains the random ID code, the Business.gov team can
never identify you as an individual.

How Do You Prevent Persistent
Cookies?

You always
have the option to prevent cookies. You can adjust your browser to limit
whether or not it automatically accepts cookies by setting it to'Always''Never, or Only Sites I Visit.
The last option prevents cookies from third parties such as
advertisers. To find out more,
visit USA.gov's instructions on disabling cookies in popular desktop browsers.

What Do You Think?

Do you feel
that these are beneficial improvements to Business.gov? Are you concerned about persistent
cookies? Leave a comment below.

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