foods/cookies.jpgThe word “Cookie” has a wholesome, benign connotation, but there are rumors that imply computer cookies are invasive and dangerous.  So let’s take a look at what a cookie is and investigate both the advantages and disadvantages of cookies.

What is a Cookie?

Cookies are employed when you use your browser to visit web sites on the Internet.  The two main browsers, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, both allow the use of cookies.  Cookie files allow a web server to store information about you on your computer, and to retrieve that information to identify you in the future. A cookie is a tiny piece of text that is placed on your hard drive.  Its job is to record bits of information such as the pages you’ve visited, items you’ve put into an online shopping cart, your user name and password.

Practical Uses for Cookies

Cookies were created to maintain user information and to customize Web sites.  In many cases, they make it easier to navigate and use the Internet.  For instance, upon your first visit to a site you are often asked to register by giving your name and a password for access to that site.  The site will then place a cookie on your hard drive, which contains that information.  When you return to that site, the cookie is retrieved and read and the web site “recognizes” you as an authorized guest.  This means that you only have to register once, instead of having to enter information every time you access the site. 

Because cookies allow a site to know who you are, they can customize information for you.  It’s like having a door attendant recognize you, greet you by name, and ask about your family.  Or like going into a store where the salesperson knows you personally and knows your preferences so he or she is able to present you with customized merchandise in order to make your shopping easier. 

What Information can a Cookie Extract?

Cookies cannot be used to get data or view data off your hard drive. Cookies do not give anyone access to your computer or any personal information about you unless you have given that information to the web site by answering questions or filling in a form. For example, the site cannot determine your e-mail name or your address unless you gave it to them.  Cookies cannot give your computer a virus. Allowing a Web site to create a cookie does not give that or any other site access to the rest of your computer.  Only the site that created the cookie can read it. And yet, cookies have a very bad reputation.

Loss of Privacy

The reason that cookies have gotten so much bad press recently is that cookies represent a potential loss of privacy.  Cookies, by design are meant to work invisibly.  They are used to track people and their activities and that makes many people uncomfortable. 

Cookies can potentially be used to build detailed profiles of your interests, spending habits and lifestyle. An innocent use of this information might be to target advertising campaigns to specific groups or individuals.  However, it is scary to contemplate the fact that some individual or group might be able to accumulate information about our private activities and personal preferences.  There is a possibility that some unscrupulous group could potentially accumulate such information and sell it to companies to be used for their own purposes. 

Cookies are like a personal tag or tracer.  Some people see this as the most invasive of privacy. However, you must realize that every time you log on to a web site you give away a lot of information.  Any web site that you visit can determine your:

·        Service provider

·        Operating System

·        Browser type

·        CPU type

·        IP address

Cookie Use is Something to Ponder

The main concern about cookies is that they work without anyone's knowledge or permission. Some people consider the use of this information harmless, but some find the gathering of information in this manner invasive to their privacy.  I, personally, do not mind the use of cookies, but I fear that this loss of privacy, however small, may lead to more loss of privacy as technology continues its onward march into our lives.