Computer Cookies

Cookies. Oh yes! Those golden buttery ones with the big ol’ chunks of dark chocolate—those are my favorite. I like them thin with crispy edges and a little gooey still in the middle.

Computer cookies are another variety altogether. While not the topic of conversation they once were, every so often I get asked about cookies. Or, someone will bring them up to me: “It’s been a while since I cleaned my cookies.”

In computer terms, a cookie is a small file that a website leaves in your web browser. (Your web browser is the program you use to “browse” the “web.” Aptly named, no?) Websites will leave these tiny files to identify your computer and your browsing habits.

Have you ever been looking at a product on Amazon (let us say a new calculator), and then you log into Facebook and suddenly there is an ad for that same calculator you were just looking at? Amazon placed a cookie on your computer identifying you as a possible calculator purchaser. Then, when you log into Facebook, they will serve you an ad from Amazon with that same product, based on the cookie that was stored earlier.

In general, cookies are beneficial. Automatic logins to web sites can be stored by cookies. The contents of your shopping card can be saved via cookies. A website showing you the current temperature based on your location? Could be a cookie generating that content based on your location.

Some people who are especially sensitive to privacy might have an issue with cookies. Generally, businesses are not going to single you out personally based on cookies. Amazon “knows” they have a customer named Bill Batty in Spruce Head Maine. Their servers know this “Bill Batty” guy uses a Mac laptop and likes to look at drums. I do not believe Amazon employees are looking at their web server logs, adding up all the various bits, and will be wondering “Who is this guy?” It is far more impersonal than that. Based on all the time cookies save me, I do not worry about them.

Some people might worry that all these cookies are slowing their computer down, so they clean them out periodically. Cookies are very small files, and take almost no space. Your hard drive is not going to fill up because of cookies. The presence of cookies on your computer is not going to make it slow down. If you want to block cookies or erase them for privacy reasons, go ahead. Otherwise, don’t worry about them. They do more good than harm.

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