Back to Courier Columns Page

by Ray DeCosta

Q. What are Internet "cookies"? Are they an invasion of my privacy?

A. A cookie is simply a small text file which contains certain information about a visitor to a website. Not all websites utilize cookies and not all cookies are bad. In fact, some of them actually increase your web surfing convenience.

For example, whenever you buy from a website by placing items in a shopping cart, a cookie keeps track of your selections. If you decide to buy the items at a later time, your selections can usually be retrieved from the cookie rather than having to select everything all over again.

Whenever you tell a website to "Remember me", information is written to a cookie regarding items such as your display preferences, user name, password, etc. so you don't have to re-enter this information on each visit. This information is stored in an encrypted format which is difficult, although not impossible, to read by another website.

However, cookies can be used for "tracking purposes", a means of recording which sites you visit. This allows other sites to create ads for products that presumably interest you. These cookies are usually termed "third-party" cookies and may easily be turned off in the Settings section of your Internet browser.

You may also erase all cookies at the close of a surfing session so there is no chance of information falling into the wrong hands. You may also allow selected websites to maintain their cookies so you don't have to re-enter information.

Published: Courier 1/18/09 - Page 4C