Do your favorite websites keep forgetting your name and password? Do you forever have to reset your preferences? A website “remembers” you by the “cookies” it leaves on your hard drive. So whenever you delete all your cookies, websites no longer recognize your computer and they “forget” your preferences and options. You can manage these cookies for smoother, more convenient surfing.
1. How cookies work
Each website you visit deposits a tiny identifying file (a cookie) onto your hard drive. Some sites give you another cookie every time you visit them. Websites use these cookies to remember you.
We have been warned to delete all cookies regularly. That is not the very best advice, however. When you remove ALL cookies, you lose the good cookies with the bad.
Every time you log onto a website, it looks up your cookies, sets up your preferences, perhaps even logs you in. Your chosen options are ready to use as soon as you connect and your web page always looks right (familiar).
In addition to the cookie you collect when you enter a site, expect another one whenever you fill out an online form, or register with your email address and password. Yes, you surrender another bit of your privacy, but it can be a good trade-off if you log onto a number of websites regularly.
A data base at the web server stores your preferences. On your own computer, you see only a short text file named something like: “[email protected].txt”. The content of a cookie file resembles a couple of lines of jumbled numbers and letters. To the data base, this is fascinating stuff!
2. How to manage your cookies
We hear about cookies that track our every move, reporting back to some evil empire. Yes, there are “bad” cookies that learn our habits and tastes, then deluge us with individually targeted advertising.
“Thwart this by deleting all cookies from your computer once a week,” the advice sounds: “Go to your Cookies folder and delete everything in it!” they tell you. But that deletes the useful cookies, too. You then lose functionality that you have come to rely on.
How do you delete unwanted cookies while keeping the helpful ones? There is a hard way and an easy way of doing this.
2. a. The hard way to manage cookies
Go to your Cookies folder. Look at the name of each file; is it a website that you use all the time? Then let it be. If the name is unfamiliar, do you then delete it? You can never score 100% on this test. You will still delete some useful cookies. Even worse, using this method, you will likely repeat the same mistakes on your next purge.
If you are adept at computers, you can open these files and gain slightly more information from them, especially one with a meaningless name like: “[email protected].txt”. Opening this one shows the word “Google” in the encoded string. Since the text reveals no more than that, you should assume nothing more. (Actually, this one sets preferences within a personalized Google Homepage) Remember, too, that it is not unusual to have several cookies from the same site, numbered , , etc.
2. b. The easy way to manage cookies
Use one of the free cookie management programs. WinPatrol is an excellent choice. Its free version is exceptionally good for managing cookies, and it is fun to use.
The cookie manager lists your cookies alongside check boxes. Recognize a cookie as one to keep? Set a check in its box. When you have gone through all the cookies, you can delete all the unchecked ones with a single click.
Next time, you will have a base on which to build: all the checked cookies were previously vetted. Now you are only making decisions on the new, unchecked, cookies. Each time, you keep refining your results.
3. How to recover from deleting a good cookie
Suppose after cleaning up your Cookie folder, ABCDEF.INFO no longer logs you in automatically; here is your recovery plan:
At ABCDEF.INFO, set up your login again. Then close your browser. Open your Cookies folder immediately to look for any cookies bearing the name ABCDEF (e.g., [email protected].txt) and make a note to keep those. Now test the site; does it log you in again automatically?
Using a cookie management program, the procedure is the same except that the software opens the Cookie folder for you. Then a simple check mark saves the cookie. See how much easier it is with a cookie management utility?
Your computer collects “good” cookies that make your internet experience smoother. It also accumulates “bad” cookies that may spy on you. Now you know how to manage those cookies.