My 2/14/10 Missoulian column The Good and Bad of Browser Cookies
Depending on who you ask, Web browser cookies either enhance your browsing experience by providing relevant Web pages, advertisements and enabling online shopping, or cookies are an invasion of privacy that feed personal information back to companies and can be security risks.
Which is it? A bit of both. “Cookies” are small bits of data stored on your hard drive by your Web browser and used by Web sites and online stores to keep you logged in between visits and to track your use of the site. (Cookie usage is usually outlined in privacy policies.)
Some of the data stored in cookies and retrieved by Web companies can be private in nature, as with log-in information and your site usage. In some instances, hackers can take advantage of cookies to get data from your browser, too.
But even though Web browser cookies are a fact of life of the modern Web, you have some control over them.
Web browsers have cookie options: You can select to store cookies only from primary sites, or you can choose to block cookies for certain sites or block them entirely.
If you choose to not store cookies at all, you’ll constantly be nagged with requests to save them, and you won’t be able to use some sites, such as banking and shopping sites, because they rely on either temporary or permanent cookies to store your account information.
You have the choice to delete cookies, too, but because of their nature it’s a bit of an inconvenience. Deleting cookies clears out all of your log-ins, which means you will have to sign in to each Web site again to “set” a new cookie.
But I think it’s a good idea to delete all cookies once a month, for your privacy online and privacy with your own PC.
Check each Web browser manufacturer’s Web site for details on cookies and cookie management: Apple’s Safari, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and Firefox.
And make sure to read all privacy policies regarding cookies, including the federal government’s policies about government Web sites.
This week in Mac Q & A: Mac Q & A: Setting a Default Program