What are Internet Cookies?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A cookie is a set of data stored by a website on your computer’s hard disk.  If you want to delete your cookies, it might make navigating the internet and those frequently used pages a bit more cumbersome, but this will make it harder for servers to track your personal information (including your name and any other details that you might have provided to websites). 

Cookies are essentially tracking devices that are used to track the demographic of people who are using websites.   Website hosts generally track this information so they know who is using the site and the length of time that they spend on the site.  Cookies can allow users to remember personal information so it is not required each time that you go to the website.  For example at Amazon, if you make a purchase and give your name, the server then assigns the user an id, and subsequent visits back to that website, brings up that user id.  Cookies allow websites to track the items that you purchased, and the next time you go to that website, it remembers you and often a personal message or recommendation will come from the website.

Cookies are not harmful to your computer (they do not give viruses).  They do not take information from your hard drive (they simply cannot access your personal hard drive information).  They only have the information that you have typed into a website, and track when and how long the visits to the website are.

Cookies allow websites to store data on your machine.  Cookies can track what websites you go to and what banners or advertisements you click on, so they can market advertisements selectively for you for the next time that you visit the website.

Security problems associated with cookies:

  1. Cookies are stored on your machine, so if you lend your computer to someone else, then that information will pop up when they go on the website (such as your name or the past books that you have purchased – i.e. from amazon)

  2. Websites can essentially take your information and then sell it to other companies (such as junk mail websites).  One way to protect against this is to make sure that the website that you are using has a privacy policy and states that it will not share your information.

Each time you go to a website, you essentially share your information to that websites’ server.  Common information that can be tracked:  Location, operating system, ip address, and your service provider.

You can actually manage cookies.  Check the settings in your browser, and change the settings to be notified each time a server or browser wants to give you an id, and then you can accept or deny this request.  For an example, in explorer, turn the cookie feature off in your browser; Tools/Internet Options/Security.

So, the next question that you should ask yourself is whether or not you want cookies to be stored on your computer.  If you do, then websites will remember you for when you go back to visit.  If you choose not to, then websites, browsers and servers cannot assign you an ID and therefore, they will not have access to your information.