written by: Percila Jackson•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/8/2011
While you're browsing around, tiny files called cookies are being put on your computer. They tell Web sites who you are, allowing those sites to customize content for each user, among other things. If you want to know keep this from happening, or just want to know who's watching, here's how.
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Other people and companies knowing what you do with your personal computer time has become a major concern as of late. While most are wondering whether or not someone might do them harm, others just want to keep their own business to themselves. The cookies that millions of different kinds of sites will install on your computer are transmitting information across the Web, telling where you live, what your name is, what other sites you visit, and what you search for. Unless you want the pain of approving or denying every single cookie that comes your way, the way to manage these files is by finding out where they end up on your computer and taking care of it there.
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Since cookies make their way in through your browser connection, Internet Explorer will record those entries.
If you're using IE7, they can be found through the Tools menu. Click on Internet Options, go to the General tab, and look for Browsing History. Open the Settings there. In the window that pops up, you will see an option to View Files. Clicking there will open the file indicated right above the button. You will probably want to maximize this window, because there will be an extremely large number of files, and it will be hard to see everything otherwise. Within that file, sort everything by Type. Cookies will appear as text documents. In the Internet Address column, you can see which sites installed which files, and delete them as you see fit.
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Firefox and other browsers do pretty much the same thing as IE when it comes to cookies, as do older versions of IE.
In Firefox, you will also begin in the Tools menu. From there, select Options to access a tabbed pop-up menu. Select the Privacy tab here, and look for the Cookies section in the middle. If you click Show Cookies, another pop-up will appear. From this window, you can view, search, and delete cookies, as well as determine which sites have installed them. Don't be surprised if there are a lot of addresses you've never visited. Many are third-party cookies coming from advertisers on your favorite sites.
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If you want to check out your cookies without going through a browser, you can skip that step by knowing where Windows XP stores these files.
Cookies have their own folder inside the Documents and Settings directory. Since XP employs user profiles, the cookies that get downloaded while each individual user is logged on to your computer will be located in the branch of that directory that is dedicated to each user. Simply open your main hard drive through My Computer (which is usually labeled "Local Disc (C:)"), go to Documents and Settings, and select the user whose cookies you want to view - note that selecting All Users will not take you to the same place. Inside, there is a Cookies folder which contains the information you seek.
If you want to see cookies and all other internet files at the same time, type the following into the Windows Explorer address bar:
C:\Documents and Settings\<User name>\Local Settings
From there, select Temporary Internet Files and sort Type to group each of the different kinds of files.