When I visit certain websites, I get an error message on my computer that says I must have "cookies" to use the site. What is a cookie, and is it safe to use them?
A cookie is the term for a file stored on your computer that saves information related to a particular website.
Cookies are intended to improve your Web browsing experience by helping sites you visit frequently recognize you and customize information for you. The cookie may help that website remember your login or preferences you’ve set with that site.
The way a cookie works is by alerting a website that it’s you (or, at least, your Web browser). Given that information, the website knows how to interact with you -- by providing stored passwords, for example.
There are other uses for cookies, as well. If the website is a business that carries advertising, the cookie will help the site know how many times you visited and whether it can count you as a new or returning visitor.
Cookies are inherently safe because of the way they are stored. They are simple text files that serve as logs of your visits and information. Each time you go to the website, it reads the cookie file and updates it.
The bottom line is that the cookie only stores information that you’ve chosen to give to that website. If you haven’t given them any personal information, then the cookie simply lets the website know that your computer is visiting the site again and that’s it.
If you are not comfortable storing such information on your computer for whatever reason -- perhaps it is a shared computer without separate logins -- you can set your browser preferences to reject cookies. Or you may opt to be asked each time a site requires a cookie. And if you do end up with cookies you don’t want, you can always clear them out all at once or choose the ones you don’t want.
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