Curious About Cookies?

Remember when cookies were those yummy ones that Mama made?  Cookies for the computer are something else!

Corresponding with John Carter I mentioned that "Never" doesn't seem to mean Never.  Going to a website for a look before mentioning it on PMUG blog seems to have stirred up their Cookies.  Deleting seemed to have taken the Cookies off,  clicking Delete All, and then Allow Cookies Never didn't cancel their return.  Later the Cookies were back.

Here's John's take: "This is very surprising. I haven't gone to the trouble to check if cookies come back on me - ever. So I have not experienced this problem, but it may be there nontheless. I am using Chrome as my default browser now, and you'll see my report on that in another email.  I'm going to start checking for cookies on sites that I have deleted cookies on and don't revisit ( being one) to see if those cookies return."

Soon John wrote back with more info on Cookies. "Ah-ha! I think I just discovered why you are getting those cookies. Safari has loaded the sites you visited in Top Sites. Every time you delete a cookie from a site, close Safari, and reopen (and maybe you don't even have to reopen), Top Sites might be reloading the cookies when it refreshes the list in Top Sites.

"Maybe if you clear all browsing data and your browser history from Safari after deleting cookies this will also clean out Top Sites and the problem will go away.

"But like I said, you should not choose Never for saving cookies because that will prevent you from visiting sites that require cookies to be set unless you have entered those sites in your cookie allowed list. It can be more of an inconvenience to update that list than it is to allow cookies only for sites that you visit.

"The only logical reason (logic and reason being at odds with each other) to block cookies is the fear that one of them will pass personal data to the outside world."

John continues, "Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia:
'A cookie can be used for authentication, session tracking (state maintenance), storing site preferences, shopping cart contents, the identifier for a server-based session, or anything else that can be accomplished through storing textual data.
As text, cookies are not executable. Because they are not executed, they cannot replicate themselves and are not viruses. Due to the browser mechanism to set and read cookies, they can be used as spyware. Anti-spyware products may warn users about some cookies because cookies can be used to track people or violate privacy concerns.

"Cookies act as spyware simply because they can report personal information that you enter at a site such as your name, address, phone, login name, and literally anything you enter into a field except a password. That information stored by a cookie is only readable by the site that put the cookie there. That's what makes doing online banking and online purchasing safe. Such personal information is used by the site to confirm you as a returning customer. This is why you should not allow cookies to be stored on a public computer (at the library). When you connect your computer to a public LAN (at the library), your computer is protected from prying eyes simply by the fact that the server (at the library) prevents crosstalk between computers even though you are able to see all the other computers connected to that same LAN.' This needs to be confirmed by one of our Internet gurus in the club, but I believe it to be correct.

"I take serious issue with the claim that cookies can be used to track people or violate privacy concerns. Information about what kind of computer you have, what kind of operating system you use, and what kind of browser you use is not considered private information. No other information can be collected from your computer by a cookie.

"Cookies cannot infect your computer in any way."

John's conclusion is reassuring, "That being said, nothing is impossible. Just keep your operating system and your browser updated when updates are available and you'll be protected in the best possible way."