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Tips on Online Privacy: Cookie Management

written by: Chad Anderson•edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 2/24/2011

Websites are increasingly using tracking cookies to trace your every move across the web and build an advertising profile around your data. Find out how to avoid being tracked and maintain your privacy on the web with proper cookie management.

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    What is a Cookie?

    Cookies, simply explained, are just a small text string stored by your Web browser. You receive cookies when you do online shopping, read your web-based e-mail, use a search engine or perform just about anything else on the Internet. Cookies, short hand for magic cookie, arose out of a necessity for client-side persistent information. It helps web applications determine who users are, reference what they are doing in their session and keep track of them as they move across the site. This allows for things like shopping carts, persistent logins and multiple connections from the same computer since a cookie defines each user session. Recently, cookies have gained a lot of attention because they are continuously being used to track users' browsing habits beyond the website where they initially acquired the cookie. This allows for advertisers to build profiles on your habits and cater specific advertisements to your interests. Many people find this to be an invasion of privacy, so they choose to delete their cookies manually or set up a way to delete their browser's cookies each time they exit a session.

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    Cookie Management

    All browsers provide a way to clear your cookies. Mozilla Firefox has the "Clear Recent History" option under the "Tools" menu whileClear Recent History  browsers like Chromium have the "Clear Browsing Data" option in their "Preferences" menu. Privacy is a big concern for most major browser developers, so the option exists to clear out your cookies. Additionally, most web browsers have an option to let the browser manage your cookies for you and delete them in their entirety when you exit the browser. This is probably the most useful privacy function available, since you can easily clear your sessions and maintain security with each exit.

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    Private Surfing

    As privacy concerns grow, many web browser developers have begun to include private browsing modes, sometimes referred to as incognito mode. These sessions allow you to navigate to more dangerous websites with session and tracking cookies without having to worry about going through and deleting the cookies later on. Private browsing or incognito windows are set up to locally delete any and all traces of your browsing session once the window has been closed. However, because of how some web services work, your browsing may be saved by Google History or a similar service if you are logged in while in incognito mode. Make sure that you do not log in to any services if you are trying to hide your browsing data with these built-in functions.

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    Deny All Cookies

    Deny All Cookies As a drastic measure, you can choose to deny all cookies, from any website, in your browser settings. This may be the most effective way to keep yourself from being tracked by the websites you visit. Unfortunately, most websites require cookies if you want to sign on and use their services. Additionally, many websites will not function properly without client-side data stored using cookies. Some web browsers, like Chromium and Opera, have exceptions or whitelists that you can use to allow websites that you trust, such as Google Mail or Yahoo!, but deny everyone else. If your browser does not have effective privacy settings, you may want to consider downloading and using a new one.

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    Source: Author Experience

    Image Credit: Screenshots by Author

Computer Privacy Tips

A collection of guides and tips related to maintaining your privacy when surfing the web. Find out about the trackers like cookies and how to use things like proxies and Tor to surf the web in anonymity and maintain your privacy.
  1. Tips on Online Privacy: Cookie Management
  2. Computer Privacy Tips: Deleting Your Browsing History