FROM THE TUSTIN NEWS, THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2005


THE DOC IS IN...

Folks should make up their own minds about computer cookies

In this world of Internet paranoia, cookies have a unique place. Some people consider them dangerous while others value the convenience they allow. In some respects, both attitudes are correct.

Cookies have been around for a long time. They are part of the World Wide Web and are used by almost all companies that use the Internet.

Technically, a “cookie” is a small text file that a web site can place on your computer. In its simplest form, it just is like an identification number used by banks and others to identify a customer. Each time that you visit a web site that uses cookies, www.amazon.com for instance, the computer in the sky places a small file on your computer with some identifying information. This information is read the next time you visit the site and is used to find you on the company’s main computer. This allow the site to show, “welcome back Art,” when I next visit and also allows them to make my checkout easier because they already have my shipping and credit card information stored in their computers.

You may think this is an evasion of privacy, but you already have given them all the personal information they need when you made your last purchase. The cookie is not storing this information; it only allows the company’s computer to identify you again and make your current visit easier.

The actual cookie on your computer is a little more complicated in form, but still is just a small text file. On my Windows XP computer, I can find my cookies in Windows Explorer, My Computer, Local Disk, Documents and Settings, Art Holub (your name), Cookies. Double clicking on an individual cookie brings up a screen showing the cookie. One of my cookies shows “CNNid” and a bunch of nonsense numbers and letters. That’s all there is to it. In Windows 98, cookies are found under Windows Explorer, Windows, Cookies.

Without getting technical about what all the numbers mean, my CNN cookie only can be read by CNN. No other web site can read this cookie. The other rules have to do with the time, how long the cookie lasts and some other things; none of consequence to us. The cookie itself also does not contain any personal information. It’s only used to identify me to the web site’s computer. Visit www.howstuffworks.com if you are interested in more information about cookies,. Search for “cookies.”

For the really paranoid, there are some cookies that can be read by third party web sites. A company called “Doubleclick” has arrangements with some web sites to run their cookies thru them for advertising purposes. I use a small program, “Cookie Pal” by Kookaburra Software, www.kburra.com, ($15.00) to screen my cookies and exclude some like Doubleclick from entering my computer. It’s a fun little program that shows a happy face that swallows excluded cookies when they appear.

Personally, I set my privacy levels in Windows to allow cookies and let Cookie Pal swallow those I don’t want. In Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, under Tools, Options, Privacy, you can set how you handle cookies. Set it to make yourself comfortable. Incidentally, you can delete your cookies in Internet Explorer, Tools, Options, Delete Cookies.

You have to make up your own mind how you want to handle cookies. I am comfortable with them and like it when Amazon welcomes me back.

If you would like to hear more about cookies, or other computer topics, visit “Coffee and Computers” at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. ‘C’ Street, any Friday morning from 9 a.m. until noon. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.

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Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: www.arholub.com. This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at: doc@arholub.com.


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