That's the Way the Web Cookie CrumblesMichelle V. Rafter
Kohn is one of those people who has a beef with cookies. He’d rather not have Internet marketers trailing him around by his cookies. To avoid it, the Deerfield Beach, Fla. non-fiction author, book editor and privacy advocate changes the settings on his Web browser software accordingly. “If a Web site demands that I allow cookies, I’ll allow cookies for that visit only,” Kohn says, “and I make sure after I visit that the cookie is indeed gone.”
To accept or reject cookies is the question for a lot of Web users like Kohn. Cookies can make it easier to interact with Web sites you visit often. If you’ve created accounts to shop, bank or read the news on Web sites such as Amazon, Fidelity or The New York Times, cookies help those sites remember you and the information or settings you entered on your first visit. Cookies store your billing address at Amazon, your 401(k) information at Fidelity, and the sports scores, stock quotes and comics you read on the Times’ Web site.
But other cookies track the information you read at a Web site, data that marketers use to tailor advertising messages you see at the site. So, for example, if you use Google to search for information on Arizona vacations, you’ll see ads on the pages that pop up related to vacationing in the Grand Canyon State. Some companies or online ad networks sell that information to other marketers who use it to send you ad pitches via email, the online equivalent of the junk mail you get in your home mailbox.
Manage your cookies
Fortunately, the power to decide what cookies can and can’t do resides in your Web browser. Blocking new cookies or deleting old ones is as easy as click, click, click. Here’s how to do it:
For a PC with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7: Internet Explorer has six privacy settings ranging from blocking all cookies to accepting all cookies. To manage settings, go to Tools > Internet Options > Privacy. To delete all cookies, go to Tools > General > Delete Browsing History > Delete Cookies.
For a PC with Mozilla’s Firefox: Go to Tools > Options > Privacy > Cookies to adjust settings to accept or reject all cookies or accept cookies from the originating site but block third-party cookies from advertisers. To delete cookies, go to Tools > Options > Privacy > Cookies > Clear Cookies Now, or click on “View Cookies” to look at and delete individual cookies.
For a Mac with Safari: Go to Preferences > Security > Accept Cookies to choose how you want to accept cookies: never, always or only from sites you navigate to. To remove some or all cookies, go to Preferences > Security > Show Cookies > and either click on Remove for individual cookies or Remove All to remove them all.
For a PC or handheld device with the Opera Web browser: Go to Tools > Preferences > Advanced > Cookies to block, accept, delete and manage cookies.
You can also use free or low-cost software programs such as Burnt Cookies, Cookie Cruncher, Cookie Crusher and Cookie Cutter to block or delete unwanted cookies while retaining cookies that some Web sites use to legitimately enhance their pages.
Cookies and the privacy debate
Electronic privacy advocates’ biggest beef about cookies isn’t that they’re inherently bad; it’s that most Web sites automatically share visitors’ information with online advertisers or other third parties by default -- rather than getting permission first. “If you get targeted ads and want to keep them, that’s okay. But right now you don’t have a choice,” says Ari Schwartz, deputy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington D.C. technology information think tank.
If you’re upset by the thought of cookies tracking your every move online, you’re not alone. According to Schwartz, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and members of Congress are looking into the issue, especially since Charter Communications and several other Internet service providers have changed their privacy policies to track customers’ Internet use and share the data with online advertising networks. Schwartz suggests that if you feel strongly about cookies, write the FTC or your congressional representatives with your concerns.
Other Web-based companies are also addressing computer users’ aversion to cookies. One is Ask, the fourth-largest Web search engine. In December 2007, the company flipped the switch on a service called AskEraser. When activated, the privacy control erases any trace of a person’s search activities on Ask within a few hours of the visit without touching account information that allows them to be recognized when they log on. Ironically, AskEraser needs a cookie to turn on the service.
Even the most security conscious people get foiled sometimes. Kohn refuses all cookies and routinely uses security programs to detect viruses and other digital junk that creeps onto his computer while he visits the Web. Even so, he was surprised when despite his best efforts a recent scan of his computer hard drive turned up cookies from Internet advertising firm DoubleClick. “The people who drop cookies on computer users say they do it to make our lives and our Internet experience more convenient,” he wrote in an email after. “These people care about our convenience the way pirates care about which ship they plunder.”
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