A  Brief  Explanation  of  Cookies

Cookies were invented in 1994 by a 24-year-old programmer named Lou Montulli, who also claims to have invented the <blink> tag.  A cookie is a small data file that certain web sites write to your hard drive when you visit them.  A cookie is a simple piece of text.  It is not a program or a plug-in.  It cannot be used as a virus, and it cannot access your hard drive or read cookie files created by other sites, although that technology is probably under development.  A cookie file can contain information such as a user ID that a web site uses to track the pages you visit, but the only personal information a cookie can contain is information which you supply yourself.

Visitors to any web site (other than this one, of course) should be aware that two general levels of information about their visit can be retained.  The first level comprises statistical information - about all visitors - collected on an aggregate basis, and the second is information about a specific visitor who knowingly chooses to provide that information.

The statistical information provides the web site manager with general (not individually specific) information about the number of people who visit his or her web site, the number of people who return to the site, the pages that they visit, where they were before they came to the current web page, and the last page they saw before they exited.  The web site manager may also collect certain information such as the type of browser being used (e.g., Netscape, Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Opera), the type of operating system being used, (e.g., Windows 98 or Mac OS) and the domain name of your internet service provider (e.g., America Online, Southwestern Bell).

This information helps the well-informed web site manager monitor traffic on his or her web site in order to analyze site usage and manage the site's content and capacity.  It also shows which parts of the site are most popular, and generally to assess user behavior and characteristics in order to measure interest in and use of the various areas of the site.  This helps facilitate improvements in the design and content of the web site and enables the manager to personalize your internet experience.

Recommended reading:

Lots of information about cookies from a company that uses them.

The Unofficial Cookie FAQ  by David Whalen.

Cookies and Privacy FAQ

The Cookie Concept

Privacy Concerns:  More than just cookies.

What's In Your Cookie Jar?

You've Got Spam:  Learn what it is, how it works and what you can do to stop it.

EPIC's Cookie page.

Information About Cookies on Microsoft.com.

Cookies and Advertising:  With the increasing commercial applications of the Internet, it was probably inevitable that cookies would quickly be utilized for advertising purposes.  Since cookies can be matched to the profile of a user's interests and browsing habits, they are a natural tool for the "targeting" of advertisements to individual users.

Understanding cookies:  There are several types of cookies, and you can choose whether to allow some, none, or all of them to be saved on your computer.  If you do not allow cookies at all, you may not be able to view some Web sites or take advantage of customization features.

Cookie-Based Counting Overstates Size of Web Site Audiences.  Cookies are often used by web servers to identify users and for authenticating, tracking and maintaining specific information about users.  First-party cookies are those left on a computer by a Web site that has been visited, while third-party cookies are those left by a domain different than the site being visited, such as an advertising server that has just delivered an ad to a computer, or certain third-party tools used to measure site traffic.

The definition of a cookie:  The main purpose of cookies is to identify users and possibly prepare customized Web pages for them.  When you enter a Web site using cookies, you may be asked to fill out a form providing such information as your name and interests.  This information is packaged into a cookie and sent to your Web browser which stores it for later use.

Persistent Client State HTTP Cookies.  Cookies are a general mechanism which server side connections (such as CGI scripts) can use to both store and retrieve information on the client side of the connection.

You Deleted Your Cookies?  Think Again.  More than half of the internet's top websites use a little known capability of Adobe's Flash plugin to track users and store information about them, but only four of them mention the so-called Flash Cookies in their privacy policies, UC Berkeley researchers reported Monday.  Unlike traditional browser cookies, Flash cookies are relatively unknown to web users, and they are not controlled through the cookie privacy controls in a browser.  That means even if a user thinks they have cleared their computer of tracking objects, they most likely have not.

Are TSA's Tracking Cookies Legal?  The Transportation Security Agency's website is not only hosting a site that looks like a phishing attack designed to steal personal information from citizens, it's also using cookies on its website — a practice that the government frowns on.  The main TSA site sets two cookies — both of which expire in 2017.  One of the cookies is set to tsa.gov, while the other is served from a web analytics company called WebTrends.

Ad Firm Sued for Allegedly Re-Creating Deleted Cookies.  Specificmedia, one of the net's largest ad-serving and tracking companies, has been hit with a federal lawsuit accusing the company of violating computer intrusion laws by secretly re-creating cookies deleted by users.

On the Web, Children Face Intensive Tracking.  A Wall Street Journal investigation into online privacy has found that popular children's websites install more tracking technologies on personal computers than do the top websites aimed at adults.  The Journal examined 50 sites popular with U.S. teens and children to see what tracking tools they installed on a test computer.  As a group, the sites placed 4,123 "cookies," "beacons" and other pieces of tracking technology.

Code That Tracks Users' Browsing Prompts Lawsuits.  Sandra Person Burns is among those taking legal action against companies that track computer users' activity on the Internet.  Ms. Person Burns, 67, a retired health care executive who lives in Jackson, Miss., said she is wary of online shopping:  "Instead of going to Amazon, I'm going to the local bookstore."

Über-zombie cookies give us the fear.  Privacy activists got hot under the collar about the use of flash cookies to respawn traditional website cookies but an even more persistent type of cookie that's almost impossible to kill off may lie just around the corner.

'Zombie cookies' won't die: Microsoft admits use.  One year ago this week, I wrote about zombie cookies, describing how Disney, MySpace, and NBC Universal had just been sued for using zombie cookies to track people even if they have gone to great lengths to disable, block, or delete cookies.  Seven months ago, I mentioned that Adobe had taken up the pitchfork and vowed to make Flash zombie cookies a thing of the past.  So it's pretty shocking that Jonathan Mayer, a Stanford researcher, caught Microsoft using both a cache-based zombie cookie and a more advanced type of persistent "supercookie" to track folks even if they blocked or deleted browser cookies.

Your computer is watching you.  Have you ever had the feeling your computer is watching you?  That somehow it knows what you were looking at yesterday, or last year?  And that rather than being your technological 'friend' it behaves more like a slick second-hand car salesman? [...] It is all because of something on your computer called a 'cookie'.  The origins of their name are unclear, but cookies are vital to the running of the internet.

The Editor says...
No, cookies are not vital to the operation of the internet.  Cookies are vital to the commecialization of the internet.

The Web Cookie Is Dying. Here's The Creepier Technology That Comes Next.  Many Internet advertisers rely on cookies, digital code stored on your browser. [...] The problem for marketers is that some users set their browsers to reject cookies or quickly extinguish them.  And mobile phones, which are taking an increasing chunk of the Web usage, do not use cookies.  To combat the cookie's flaws, advertisers and publishers are increasingly turning to something called fingerprinting.

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Document location http://www.ae5d.com/cookies.html
Updated July 12, 2013.

Page design by Andrew K. Dart  ©2013