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Cookies

What are cookies?

How do cookies affect privacy?

Why use cookies?

How can I manage cookies?

Cookie management software recommendations

NOTE: There is a more comprehensive Cookie FAQ at SurferBeware.com Cookies.

What are cookies?

Cookies are text files stored on your computer by sites that you visit.  The cookies are used to "customize" your web experience for the site you are on.  For instance,  take the example of using a vending machine.  the vending machine doesn't remember you before or after you purchase something.  Even if you buy the same crackers everyday for the past year the vending machine has no idea what you will buy or what you have bought.  Contrast this with a coffee shop you might visit everyday or another frequently visited hangout.  After awhile you might here someone asking you if you want your usual.  Why? because this is what you have bought over and over and the coffee shop remembers your preferences.  This remembering in Internet/Computer Science terms is called a cookie.

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How do cookies affect privacy?

We have many conveniences today that make life "easier"; Credit cards, EZpass, Navigation systems, etc.  All of these conveniences come with a price which is our privacy, or what I like to call "Freedom of Movement".  There is an automatic and inherent tracking system built into each of these technological advances which compromises ones privacy.

Cookies are no different.  Before cookies you could surf the web and there wouldn't be any way for someone to know where you had been, but since the advent of cookies tracking your movements is child's play. What sites you visited, how long you stayed, what you bought, even passwords.

Probably the most famous cookie that employs this tracking is the DoubleClick cookie.  DoubleClick and its advertisers create a profile for users and track their "click" habits in order to deliver targeted advertisements.

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Why use cookies?

Cookies are not inherently bad or evil.  For instance, websites that you buy products from tend to use shopping carts.  These shopping carts are only functional based off of cookies.  This is how the site knows what you are purchasing.  

There are certain sites that require its visitors to login to a members area or restricted area.  These sites can automatically log you in by your request.  this is only done through the use of cookies.

NOTE: Using cookies to automatically log you in to sites is not recommended but I understand sometimes there are more passwords to remember then your brain will allow.  Norton has a password manager coming out which I have not been able to review yet.  Once I have reviewed it, I will post my thoughts here.

So what am I saying?  Cookies need to be managed on a per site basis not simply because they are cookies. If you reject all cookies, you might be "Cutting off your nose to spite your face".

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How can I manage cookies?

Cookies should be managed on a per site basis and not with overall policies.  I bring this up because in Internet Explorer (IE) 6 Microsoft has added a privacy option to handle cookies.  The feature the way it is now is a waste of time.  Why?  Because it groups all cookies together regardless of the site that generates them and in order to use sites that you want to use cookies you also group in sites that you want to reject cookies.  The privacy option in IE6 should be incorporated into the security option which allows you to designate trusted and restricted sites.

Cookie Wall to the rescue!!!  Cookie Wall allows you to configure cookie creation for each site you visit.  I have used this product and it can be annoying for the first couple of days because you will get asked what to do for each site you visit that tries to create a cookie, but eventually you will have a comprehensive cookie control system.

NOTE: Despite the shortcomings of the cookie control privacy option in IE6 it shouldn't be ignored. this should be set at medium-high.

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Cookie management software recommendations

Cookie Wall is the only product you need.  You can download it for free on our free downloads page.

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