Cookies, What are cookies, Are cookies bad, How to remove cookies

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Have you ever visited a web site and were surprised to see that instead of a generic welcome message, the site actually uses your real name to greet you? This trick is done by using cookies.

When you surf the Net, sites (web servers) that use cookies, send a message in the form of a small text file to your web browser. The web browser in turn sends it to your computer's hard drive where it remains stored (saved). The next time you visit the same site, your web browser relays back the message to the web server enabling it to recognize you (your computer).

Why do some sites use cookies? There are various reasons. Some sites may be collecting demographic information about who are visiting their site, how often they visit the site, how long they stay on the site, the visitors' surfing habits etc. Some sites may use cookies to monitor advertisements. It helps them decide what ads they let you see, and how often you see them. More importantly, cookies help web servers to personalize the web page for you, and sometimes let you enter a page on a secure server not requiring you to type in your password every time. (In most cases, where you need to use a password to enter a page, you must have noticed there is a box right next to or under the password box, which says "Remember me" or "Sign me on automatically". When you put a check mark in that box, you are giving the server your permission to put a cookie in your browser so that it can identify your computer next time you visit the site.)

Web servers can remember your name, username, password, etc. because you gave them this information earlier, perhaps by filling out a form online when you visited that site for the first time. Many shopping sites keep a track of what you bought or searched for from their site earlier and keep this information in a cookie. That's how they sometimes make recommendations to you, when you visit their site again. These things sometimes seem like a magic.

There are many misconceptions about cookies among computer illiterates. Some visualize them as viruses or something malicious that is going to do harm to your computer. Others think cookies take up a lot of disk space. None of these are true. Cookies are indeed tiny programs (text files) and they are usually placed clandestinely by web sites (web servers) in your computer to gather certain information about you such as your surfing habits. But these are really tiny files (usually only a few bytes) which hardly take up any disk space. Cookies are certainly different from spyware which are placed in a similar manner in your computer without your permission or knowledge, and they are placed there to steal your vital personal information (such as password, bank account number, credit card number, social security number, etc.) So, spyware are bad and larger files, but cookies are generally innocuous and tiny files. I like cookies because they sometimes do things that look like magic to me, such as when I visit Amazon.com, they greet me by my first name and tell me what other health guide books I might want to look into! (I bought a few health related books from them in the past).

Admittedly, if you never clear out cookies from your computer and hundreds of them are installed in it over a prolonged period of time, they may take up some disk space. There are many so-called cookie washer programs (software) available in the Web, which you can download and install in your computer to remove cookies. Some of these programs, I understand, can automatically remove all cookies everytime you shutdown your computer. I, however, use Ad-Aware about once a month to remove all cookies, adware, spyware etc. from my computer. You can download a free version of the software called Ad-Aware Personal from Lavasoft or Download.com.

If you have Internet Explorer 7.0, you can delete or remove cookies by clicking on the Tools button, then clicking on "Internet Options" on the dropdown menu, then clicking on Delete under "Browsing history" on the next dialog box, then clicking on "Delete cookies" in the next dialog box, finally clicking on Yes in the "Delete Cookies" confirmation box. Remember to click on OK when you are done. When you are removing cookies from your computer, it is a good idea to remove all Temporary Internet Files (browser cache) and clear History also from your computer at the same time. See Screenshot #1 to #4 here. If you are an average computer user, you may want to do this along with other computer maintenance things about once a month.

To summarize, cookies are not malicious things like spyware and other malware, they can make your Internet experience pleasant and useful, they do not take up a lot of disk space on your computer's hard drive, and they are easy to remove either manually, or by using special software for automatic removal everytime you shutdown your computer.

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