PDQ Library:  Web Cookies

Should I worry about "cookies" (web, not baked)?
No, but...

Cookies are tiny files stored on your computer by Web sites you visit. The overwhelming majority of cookies are harmless. When your security tool finds a "tracking" cookie from a reputable site, you don't need to be concerned - the cookie is probably just counting visits, or something equally benign.

In most cases, a cookie can only store information that you provided. When you fill out a form on a web site and type in your name, address, opinions or preferences, that information can be stored in a cookie. Otherwise, all the site knows about you is that you visited at a certain time, from a certain network, using a particular Web browser, looked around (or not) and left. The idea that your privacy is being invaded is silly, since you voluntarily provided the information in it.

Several years ago, cookies got a bad name from some unscrupulous Web site operators. They solicited personal user information under false pretenses and then combined it with information the same people provided on other sites involved in the "scam". The collection and misuse of the private customer information collected in these Web sites was fraudulent, not the use of cookies. In fact, the cookies stored on people's computers were the "red flag" that led to the discovery of the fraudulent activities.

That kind of scam has mostly stopped, but other scams have taken their place. Check out our information on hoaxes, scams and phishing. These are much more dangerous to your personal privacy and security.

There are also viruses, malware, worms, and trojans to worry about. These are not only a threat to your computer but to privacy. Some of these use cookies as part of their operation, but the problem is the software or program that's creating the cookie, not the cookie itself.

To protect yourself against cookie abuse, use your normal security tools (anti-virus, firewall, spyware scanner) and know the sites you're dealing with. Today, the "good guys" post a privacy policy stating exactly what information they do and do not collect, and what they use it for - it has legal force. Read it. This is where they tell you they will send you commercial mail or give your email address to their associates.

To delete cookies from your computer, read the "help" in your web browser.

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