Commentary on Cookies
By Jon Hardie
What are cookies? Microsoft defines cookies as: "Some Web sites store
information in a small text file, called a "cookie," on your hard disk."
Cookies contain information about you and your preferences. For example, if you inquire
about a flight schedule at an airline's Web site, the site might create a cookie that
contains your itinerary. Or it might only contain a record of which pages within the site
you visited, to help the site customize the view for you the next time you visit.
Only the information you provide, or the choices you make while visiting a Web
site, can be stored in a cookie. Allowing a Web site to create a cookie does not give
that, or any other, access to the rest of your computer; and only the site that created
the cookie can read it.
Internet Explorer allows the creation of cookies, (so if you dont want
cookies or want to choose, you have to be proactive). However, you can specify that you
are prompted before a site puts a cookie on your hard disk, so you can choose to allow or
disallow the cookie; or you can prevent Internet Explorer from accepting any cookies.
You must specify settings for each security zone to prompt you before creating
HOW TO SET UP YOU WEB BROWSER
- Internet Explorer
In Internet Explorer 5 click TOOLS > INTERNET OPTIONS > SECURITY > (at the
bottom) click CUSTOM LEVEL > then scroll down to COOKIES. If you want to choose which
cookies to accept, select PROMPT to choose which ones you want to accept each time.
Explorer 4.0 click VIEW > OPTIONS > ADVANCED, Scroll down to the
"Security" section, where you'll find the boxes for your cookie settings.
IE 3, click VIEW > OPTIONS > ADVANCED, check the "warn before accepting
In Netscape click on EDIT > PREFERENCE > ADVANCED then select PROMPT if you want to
be warned before accepting any cookie.
By default I usually also check "sent back only to the site/server." I tend
to accept cookies from .org sites i.e. nonprofits, because I know they need the data to
justify funding ... but in any case, with these "prompt before accepting"
settings on Explorer and Netscape you are the boss each time!
If you have had cookies "on" by default - you will be amazed (and concerned),
at the number of cookies wanting to be placed on your machine as you travel the Web.
Notice how much easier Netscape makes it to change cookies. Most folks would never know
where to look to find, "cookie settings" in Explorer 5. This only increases
their concerns about Microsoft ... it does mine, ever since MS wanted to download the scan
of my executable files when I registered windows 95 electronically - without telling me!
Real Audio Jukebox (millions of copies installed) also actively reports to their
marketing department, all the music you listen to. You must download a
"patch" which turns this "feature" off! You can learn more about these
issues by visiting the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) at www.epic.org.
REVIEWING COOKIES ALREADY ON YOUR MACHINE: Be very careful as you do this
do not edit your cookie file unless you know which ones you are removing and why. Some may
be required for membership, free updates or services, such as Microsoft, McAfee, etc.
To Find cookies on your PC: click: START > FIND > type COOKIES > ENTER.
You will find cookies files typically in two places, in a folder named cookies, and a
cookie list associated with you Web browser. When you click on your cookies files, (a text
file), Notepad should open showing you a list. Most cookies have an associated source -
you can use Dogpile.com or other search engines to search for the source of your cookie.
Jon Hardie is a Circuit Rider with the Rockefeller Technology Project. He is
Principal of the Maine Circuit Riders Initiative, http://www.onelist.com/community/MaineNPTechNet
and Webmaster at the Maine Philanthropy Center (www.megrants.org).
You can reach him at email@example.com or 207-671-6391.