Cookies are small text files that web pages place on your computer when you visit a web page. The

text file contains information that helps web pages track users and allows site preferences so that

when you re-enter a page, itís unique to your custom settings or has "one-click" purchase options.

How Cookies Work

When you visit a website that tracks user data in this way, the site "drops a cookie" and creates a text

file on your machine if it is your first visit, or updates a file that it left on your machine from a previous

visit. The website does not change anything on your computer other than the file and, in all but

the rarest of cases, the cookie does not contain any private information such as credit card numbers

or home addresses and phone number. Most often, the cookie contains only the name of the web

page and a unique identifier that the web page uses to pull information from a secure database where

the private information about you is kept. This helps prevent problems associated with different people

sharing the same machine, or a single user who switches between machines. It also allows web

pages to keep track of users even when they have deleted all their cookie files.



Bad Cookies

Not all cookies are bad things. For example, may place a cookie on your

computer to store your ZIP code so that each time you return to its website, it can immediately bring

up the local weather for your location.

However, one of the main issues with cookies is that marketing companies often use information about

what you buy and where you click on a web page to better target you for advertising and spam. Some

cookies are tracked across multiple sites by third-party companies. This is considered a privacy or security

violation by many users. To protect your personal information, you can set your Internet browser to one

of various privacy settings ranging from accept all cookies to block all cookies. Both these options

are a bit impractical because accepting all will greatly increase security risks and blocking all will

make it very difficult to browse many private and commercial websites (the pages will fail to load).

On Internet Explorer, we recommend a setting of Medium High as Figure 16-1 shows. (The screen is

found by selecting the Privacy tab on the Internet Options dialog box, which is found under the Tools

drop-down menu on the top of the browser.)

If you are worried about the cookies you have previously accepted, you can delete all cookies by

selecting the Delete Cookies button on the General screen of the window shown in Figure 16-1. If

you had your privacy setting set to anything below Medium High, you should probably do this when

you reset your settings.




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