Cookies - a Trick or Treat

Ralph DeFrangesco

With Halloween right around the corner, I thought I would post something with a scary theme. A cookie tracks where you have been on the Internet. Every time you visit a site, you most likely create a cookie. Cookies are categorized as either first or third party. First-party cookies exist only on the site you are visiting and any associated sites the company owns. A third-party cookie is a different animal. They are shared with a larger audience.


I have a friend who does not mind being tracked by cookies. He downloaded one of those free virtual machines and runs a Windows host that he uses only to surf the Web. He likes going to sites such as Amazon where his preferences are remembered. I have other friends that have accounts at many sites and use cookies to remember their user names and passwords. For this to work, you must never to delete your cookies.


The problem with cookies is that these sites register your IP address and can track any information with it, such as your home address or other personal information. In addition, if you use the same user name and password on multiple sites, that information is captured. Now just think, if you use the same user name and password for your online banking? But research has found that even those social Web sites that we all enjoy are leaking our personal information and opting out of cookies could last as little as 10 days.


Cookies can be set to expire under the following conditions:


1. At the end of the session if the cookie is not persistent.

2. An expiration date has been specified.

3. The expiration date of the cookie is changed to a date in the past.

4. The browser deletes the cookie by user request.


So what can you do to protect yourself?


1. Check the Web site's privacy policy to see whether your information is going to be shared.

2. Disable cookies in your browser. If you disable them, you can't be tracked.

3. Delete cookies weekly. However, if you use Adobe's Flash it might not matter.

4. Use a proxy server. This allows you to surf the Web anonymously.


Cookies can either be a good thing or bad. They can make a better shopping experience through personalization. On the flip side, they can capture data that a user didn't want captured and that's no treat.

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