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What Are Internet Cookies?

As Microsoft continues to release security patches to address various vulnerabilities within the Windows Operating System, whether or not to accept Cookies has become a public concern. As a result, many people are actually disabling their Internet Browsers from accepting cookies. Therefore, I decided to write a technical brief outlining what Cookies are so you can decide for yourself whether to accept them or not.

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Cookies

Cookies are actually harmless text files that certain web sites place onto your hard drive. Your Internet Browser loads the information into memory while you are visiting their site. The Cookie itself, actually takes up very little space and acts as an identification card for the visiting site. You can compare this to visiting your favorite restaurant where your food server will usually remember certain aspects of how you like your food prepared and what you usually order. This information would obviously be based upon his familiarity of your prior visits. Well Cookies actually act in a similar manner and do not contain viruses as a virus must be executable file. Let us look at some of the ways that Cookies act as an identification card.

Why Sites Use Cookies?

There are numerous reasons why web sites would want to use cookies. These range from statistical purposes, such as how many visitors came to the site. This can be further broken down into are they new visitors or actually repeating visitors and how often do they visit. The Web site would actually create a unique id for each visitor and then store this information into an accessible database.

Cookies can be used to store your personal preferences, referred to as customizations, that you set while navigating their site. For instance, if you visit Yahoo.com, you can sign in to create your very own personal yahoo page where you can customize it according to your news and weather preferences after providing your zip code. You can even change the color of the page layout as well.

Online Shopping sites can use cookies to keep track of items that you add to their shopping carts and quick checkout options. The cookie will keep track of every item that you add to the shopping cart while you continue to browse through different pages or even entirely different sections of their site. Every item you add is stored within the Web site's database along with a unique ID value that has been assigned to you. Therefore, when you select the check out option, the site automatically knows what items are in your cart by retrieving those selections from its database. This is why sites such as Amazon or eBay will prompt you to enable cookies in case you have disabled them.

Cookies also provide web designers and programmers with a quick and convenient method of keeping their site content fresh and up to date according to the interests of their users. Modern web servers use Cookies for back-end interaction, allowing them to securely store any personal data that the user has entered within a site. Therefore, on return visits the user now only has to enter partial information to access their account and purchases can be made quicker as their payment information is already on file.

In closing, as Cookies are actually small text files, they really can not damage your computer system or any files on your hard drive. Once again, they cannot transmit viruses as viruses are executable in nature. Some users may just not want to be tracked and this is one of the primary reasons why many people just disable accepting cookies.

Setting Your Browser To Accept or Reject Cookies

Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Netscape provide you with some level of control regarding accepting and rejecting cookies. All Browsers have menu options that let you define Cookie settings where you can enable a feature to receive a warning asking you if you would like to accept the site's incoming cookie.

For The Latest Version of Internet Explorer

  1. Click on the word Tools, which is contained in your top tool bar area.
  2. This will pull down a menu for you to now click on Internet Options.
  3. Then click on the Privacy tab located at the top of the options windows.
  4. Then click on the Advanced tab to bring up the Advanced Privacy Settings windows.
  5. This is the area where you can define how Cookies are handled on your system etc.

For The Latest Versions of Firefox and Netscape

  1. Click on the word Tools, which is contained in your top tool bar area.
  2. This will pull down a menu for you to now click on Options.
  3. Then click on the Privacy icon where you will see a Cookies Tab to click on for Firefox.
  4. Netscape displays a listing of Privacy Settings where you will see Cookies within the list.
  5. When you enter this area, you can clear the Cookies or choose the option to accept them.
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