Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Blogger.com and the Broken Comment Form: Third Party Cookies
A while ago, I noticed that, for some reason, when I was on a Blogger blog on the blogspot.com domain (such as this one), I was no longer seen as "logged in", even though when I went to the Blogger home page, or clicked the "Sign in" link on the upper right hand corner (or the "B" icon on the upper left), I was automatically signed in with my Google account. This was only a minor annoyance to me (it prevented the "edit" icons from showing up for me on the widgets my own blogs) until I started using the in-line comment form for my blogs. This feature puts the comment form right below the post on its page, in stead of opening a separate window or navigating away to a special comments page. I like it because it allows for immediate comment gratification, and a smooth user experience. The problem was that now my comment forms seemed to be broken if I was signed in with my Google account. (Google owns Blogger, and they transitioned away from the old Blogger IDs to Google accounts a while ago.) After doing some research on this problem, I came to the conclusion that the source of the problem was Firefox: specifically that Firefox (since version 3.0) has the default setting of blocking all third-party cookies. (However, if you upgraded your profile from a previous version, you may still have the old default setting left over.) A cookie is a bit of text that a web site can store (in order to read back later) to track information about a visitor to that website. A third-party cookie is a cookie that is loaded by a script that is not hosted on the same domain as the site that you are visiting. Most third party cookies come from advertisers, whose ads are loaded and, in the background, like to keep track of which ads a user has seen and at which sites they have visited. There are a few companies that like to collect as much information as possible, and the fact that they have their advertising tendrils on so many sites gives them a disturbingly extensive ability to track users' browsing habits. This is why the makers of Firefox decided to block third party cookies, except for those sites that the user has specifically granted permission to allow access from other sites. I agree with their assessment, and don't want to re-enable all third-party cookies, but I also want to allow certain sites that I trust to know who I am. Blogger is not nefarious in its desire to "track" me on blogs: it simply wants to let me log in, manage my blogs, and post comments. So, how do I let Firefox know that blogger.com should be allowed to track me on non-blogger.com sites? Here is the answer: Go to the settings menu. This can be found under Tools -> Options on Windows and Edit -> Preferences on Linux. I'm not sure where it is on Mac OS X, but I'm sure it's not hard to find. Once you're there, select the Privacy panel, and under "Cookies", click on the "Exceptions..." button: those on blogspot.com, as well as custom domains) will know who you are.