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Are cookies good or bad?

The cookies that we all know and love are tasty little morsels with chocolate chips (usually) that go will with milk or coffee. There also cookies in the computer world, but you don't get to eat them, and in fact you never see them. They are hidden from us and most of time we don't even know they are there.

Just like a oatmeal-raisin cookies can make lunchtime better, a computer cookie can help make your time on the Internet a little more rewarding too... even if you aren't aware of it.

What is a cookie?

An Internet cookie is a small packet of information (piece of computer code) sent by a web host to a your computer when you visit that host's website. A cookie is the term given to describe a type of message that is given to a Web browser by a Web server. It's then sent back to the web host—automatically and behind the scenes—to the web host each time you go to that website.

Cookies are used by websites for a lot of practical reasons: none of which are meant to be harmful for you. In fact, they're designed to make your online experience go smooth and easy. You could say it's primary duties is to identify you to a regular website visitor or customer, present to you customized Web pages (based on what information the cookie has on you) and make it quick and easy to log in to a site.

Baking cookies.

When visit a specific website that uses cookies (and you become a customer or active visitor) you might be asked to fill out a form providing your name, e-mail address, and website preferences. Your answers are turned into a cookie and stored on your computer. The next time you visit that Web site, your browser will send the cookie to the Web server.

In short, the cookie helps the Web site electronically know who you (just your name, username and password, preferences and so on—not your life story). Think of it like a website concierge of sorts. Instead of being just anybody, you'll likely see your name somewhere on the home page, saying "welcome back."

Who doesn't like cookies?

A lot of people are not fans of cookies on their computers. Mostly, it's because of misunderstanding or misconceptions. Some time ago, a research company asked computer users about cookies and explain what they were. Here were the types of answers they received:

  • "cookies are like worms and viruses"
  • "they can erase data from the user's hard disks"
  • "cookies are a form of spyware and can read personal information stored on the user's computer"
  • "cookies generate all those pop up ads"
  • "cookies are used for spamming"
  • "cookies are only used for advertising"

The fact is, cookies are simply pieces of code or data placed by a Web server on your computer. It is not a software program, so it is not able to carry out any kind of operation by itself. It's part of a system that is in fact designed to make your web time more enjoyable and productive.

The upside and downside of technology.

Think of smartphones today. One feature, GPS (Global Positioning System) can help you find local restaurants, no matter what part of town, or the country! you're in. How convenient! That's made possible by one feature: GPS, or Global Positioning System. Without GPS operating and interacting with the other smartphone features, you'd be left to find new places on your own.

However, that also means Big Brother knows where you are at any one time—and how does that make you feel?

That's how some people feel about cookies... .even though they help make your Internet experience better, they do it by keeping track of your web habits.

How cookies make online life easier.

Like it was mentioned earlier, cookies are designed to be helpful and they're in action more than you might know. Here are some examples.

    Shopping: Cookies are helpful with your "virtual shopping basket" on retail sites, where your place item to purchase. Thanks to the cookies help, you can navigate a site where items are shown, and add or remove them from the shopping basket at any time.

    Log ins. Cookies make it easy to log in to come websites. When you put your username and password to log into a website, cookies help out by letting the website know that you're already authenticated, giving you the ability to do things that only registered customers (who are logged on) can do.

    Personalization. Web sites also use cookies for personalization based on users' preferences. For instance, Google allows you to decide how many entries per page you want to see.

    Research and relevance. Cookies are used by marketing companies and advertisers to track your movements across the Web and make that information available to the advertiser. With that information, an advertiser might know what kind of ad to put on a web page while you're online. It's no coincidence when you lookup a brand of shoes or computer, and later, while your jumping around the web, an ad for that product shows up onscreen.

Emptying the cookie jar.

Can you get rid of cookies? Most of today's browsers will let you decide whether you want to allow or accept cookies, and you can delete cookies after each online session using the browser's "history" menu.

In the end, a lot depends on whom you listen to. In some instances, deleting cookies might make it hard to use a website's features, such as a shopping basket. In other instances, allowing cookies lets some advertisers keep tabs on your behavior, not for your own good, but theirs.

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