Internet Cookies
Published May 2000

When you are surfing on the net you might have seen a window pop up asking you if you are prepared to accept a cookie. Even if you are not being asked, your computer may still be accepting cookies.

What on earth is a cookie? It is a mechanism that web site owners and operators (among others) use to collect information about you. It is NOT a sneaky way to steal your passwords or damage your computer. (Cookies only contain text - no programs so they can not infect your computer with a virus or Trojan). Most of the time cookies are used to enhance the operation of a particular website and pose no threat to you. For example it is the mechanism many online book shop use to temporarily store details on your hard drive to track items you’ve placed into your shopping cart, so you can pay for them when you get to the checkout. Cookies, stored on your hard drive, are also used to track past purchases in an attempt to tailor future recommendations offered by the shop.

Cookies can also be shared by operators to track your online browsing movements and create a shared profile. The primary concern with this activity is that you can not control who accesses, or how they may choose to use, your profile information. When you are shopping with the likes of Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble you can verify their privacy policy and checkout the constraints the company places on themselves before you choose to shop with them. When information is being shared with other parties you can’t always find out who will have access to it.

You can prevent this sharing if you wish by altering your browsers' (Netscape, Internet Explorer, etc.) settings so that cookies are not automatically accepted, and that when asked, you only accept cookies that tell you will be 'sent back to itself'.

If you use Microsoft Explorer Version 4.0* the cookie settings are found by going to Settings, (via the Start Menu), then Control Panel, then Internet Options, then Advanced. Scroll down to the Cookies section where you’ll see the options to alter your settings.

In Netscape Navigator* open Edit, then Preferences, then Advanced, and alter your cookie settings there.

Being asked every few minutes if you want to accept cookies can slow down your browsing but if you set your browser to refuse cookies you may find some sites won’t allow you access to their pages. Either way you get to choose whether you wish to take all, some, or no, cookies. I personally prefer only to accept cookies that are sent back to themselves.

*Instructions to alter your settings will vary with browser and the version of the software installed on your computer. If you have any queries and you are a CCS client send an email to me frogwrite@paradise.net.nz with your browser name and version number (eg Netscape 4.7) and I'll endeavour to obtain the instructions to allow you to alter your cookie settings. Please mention that you are a CCS member and which branch you belong to.

This page last updated on 18/05/2001 14:01

© Glynne MacLean 1999-2003

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