Interaction Security Technology

Cookies – trick or treat?

One of many annoyances of the internet these days is the dreaded ‘Please accept our cookies’ popup you see on a great number of websites, warning you of the intention of the site you are visiting to give you things called cookies. They sound soo sweet, digestable, and innocent. But how many of us actually know what they are, how they are used, and if they are dangerous or not?

So – what is a cookie and why are they on the internet?

A cookie, in the internet sense, is a wee fragment of data that a website can store in your web browser for a defined period of time. This can be until you close your browser, it can be days or weeks. Once a cookie is stored on the end users browser, that cookie of information is sent to the server with every new page request or interaction with that websites server. Cookies are restricted to only send data back to the domain name that set them. A cookie is unique to each user – they may store the same information, but because they are stored on the end users device, they are unique to that user.

Where they get powerful is that website developers can store data in a cookie that enables them to customise our browsing experience on their website. Typically what this looks like is when a user has logged in to a website a token is stored on a cookie for that user session so that every subsequent request to the server can prove that it is from the logged in user, and the server can customise its response according to your profile and stored settings. This is really useful.

Where this can get risky though, is when you visit websites that use advertising networks. Advertising networks can set cookies on your computer to track what websites you have visited, and your preferences so they can target you with ads for things they think you need. This is seen as predatory, and can give these networks a huge wealth of information about you and your online habits. The more websites an advertising network is used on, the more data they can collect.

Its this predatory use of cookies on websites that has given cookies their bad name. Cookies as an object are quite harmless – they do not contain code that gets executed or anything dangerous, but they can store information that can be used to identify individual users and ‘follow’ them around. To break up the amount of data that can be used to identify a user, it is recommended to either use a cookie blocker in your browser that can determine if the cookie is from an advertising network or not.

While cookies are generally safe to accept, websites in many geographic locations nowadays need to request the users permission before they can store cookies in their website browsers. The lawmakers in these regions pass laws to make this mandatory for sites doing business in these regions so that their people can make informed decisions on what information can follow them around on the internet.

If you visit a website that you know you won’t be logging in to or signing up for, then there is no need to accept the cookies on that site. If you are keen to interact with the site, and have a customised experience, then accepting cookies is quite fine. You can always clear out cookies from your browser at any stage – the process varies depending on what web browser you are using, but you can view the content of any of the cookies, and delete whichever ones you prefer.

Interaction Projects

Architectural Lighting with website control

Yep – thats right – controlling building lighting from a website. I mean – how hard could it be right? Nowadays there are plenty of apps for your phone to control all manner of LED based lights. But we were keen to take this concept a bit further. So we built

The concept:

Our office is in an old air traffic control tower. We thought it’d be pretty neat to light up the cabinet at the top (the bit with all the windows that the controllers would have sat in) for Christmas, and give people the opportunity to request whatever colour they want the lights to display, through a public web page. Bit of a marketing ploy, but also a fun wee project to flex some of the many skills within our team.

The gear:

  • SP108E LED Wifi Magic Controller (we are using 1 of these to control all LED’s)
  • WS2815 DC12V RGB LED Strip Light (we are using 4 of these – each 5m strip has 60 LED’s per metre, and pulls a total of 90 watts)
  • DC12V LED Power Supply 10A Switch Mode Transformer
  • Wifi access point connected to a network with DHCP (most home wifi routers would do the job fine here)
  • A computer (headless raspberry pi would be more than fine here)
  • A smartphone for initial configuration

The LED’s, power supplies and controller were all sourced from Ali Express relatively cheaply. The rest we “had lying around”…

The hardware setup:

So – one power supply per 5m LED strip. The strips have connectors at each end so you can connect them up for the data connection, and tails (leads allowing power connection) so we connected all 4 LED strips into one long strip. We’ve been careful to make sure that its wired so all turn on at once, so as not to overload any one power supply trying to power all lights at once. Options to do that can be to switch everything on or off all at once, or separate power to each of the LED strips so that each strip can only be powered by one power supply, and the only linking wires between strips are data wires, not V+ or V-.

On one end of the LED strip, attach the SP108E controller. One it is powered up, you’ll need to connect to it using the supplied instructions in the box and their smartphone app, which allows you to set the wifi network that the controller connects to. On your router you should be able to tell the DHCP server to assign a static ip address to the controller, so that you can then consistently connect to the one IP address that controls the LED’s.

Once we can connect to the controller consistantly, we can then put onto the raspberry pi, set the IP address to look at the controller, and start playing. You will likely need to change the LED’s per segment, and number of segments settings to ensure all the LED’s are getting signal and behaving as expected.

How we’ve tweaked it up from there:

We’ve set up a database table to store a colour change queue, and tolde teh php script above to poll that database table for changes. If a change is noticed, we can then fade between colours (the fade is a custom function we have written). We then have a public facing website that allows people to load up colours into the queue, and the building changes colour every minute to reflect the next queue colour. No changes in the queue? It’ll just show the last colour until something new comes along.

Keen to enable this level of control in your building or office space? Its quite neat allowing your people / clients to interact with your building, and also its a draw-card that can be promoted widely – people love getting reaction from actions they have taken.

I’f you’d like to set up something similar, large project or small, get in contact – there are lots of really neat ways to make this happen, this is just one. We can assist with your next project.