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Crumbs to Cookies ~ You won't find the Girl Scouts dishing out these type of cookies! But as these aren't exactly tasty treats, neither are they always poisonous. Netscape invented cookies and calls them Persistent Client-side State Information. Well, nibble on that! In defense of Netscape take a look at their official explanation. But if you prefer to read a more simplified explanation, read on.

So What are these Cookie Critters? First let's say what they're not! Cookies do not have the ability to analyze your hard drive or return information to some unscrupulous webmaster. However, they are spies! Cookies will gather information about your Web surfing activities and return it to the Site's host.

Why? is the question. Well, in a nutshell a cookie can work for and against you! Let's take The New York Times's site as one example. You need to register with the site to gain access to certain areas, and to save you keep re-entering your user ID and password, they send you a cookie with this information stored on it. The next time you visit, that cookie is read and let's you straight into the restricted area without having to enter any information. No harm in that! But, some are a little less helpful.

Case in point, Jay Levinson's Guerrilla Marketing site! Land on this site and you'll be sent a cookie that when retrieved, will provide the Marketing Guru with information about your surfing habits! His cookie will tell him what sites you've visited, any purchases made over the 'Net and areas visited on his site. What's the good of this? Just for the good of age old market research.

Not so Bad Cookies: Just like The New York Times example, a few other uses for cookies can actually guide you around the 'Net. Most search engines will use cookies by analyzing your search requests and using the information to narrow down future search results. Some sites also display advertising banners related to information their cookies think you are interested in. Say you frequently visit golf related sites and later visit a site that utilizes rotating advertising banners... do you think that ad at the top of it's page for Discounted Big Bertha's is coincidental?

Cookie Cutting: If you think cookies are crummy, there are some things you can do about them. First, you can delete cookies already created. Microsoft Explorer users will find their cookies stored in a folder called Cookies inside the Windows folder. Deleting these files (after you've exited your browser) causes no harm, except that web sites that use cookies will have to start baking fresh treats. Netscape Navigator users can erase the cookies.txt file stored in the Netscape folder.

If you're curious about which sites are requesting and saving information, you can turn on a cookie monitor in the current versions of both major browsers. Explorer users should select the Options item from the View menu. Click on the Advanced tab at the top of the Options dialog box. You'll see a setting to "Warn before accepting cookies." Netscape Navigator users can select "Network Preferences" from the "Options" menu. Click the Protocols tab in the Preferences dialog to find the "Show an alert before accepting cookies" setting. Be warned, though - so many sites use cookies that the warnings may get annoying quickly. 

A Final Word: The end result here is that cookies are an invasion of your privacy! However, beyond at worst knowing what Web-sites you've visited they can't deliver information such credit card details or the contents of your hard drive.It's okay to accept cookies from reputable sites if you're comfortable with that. Use your judgement.

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