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A cookie is a small text file placed on your computer by a website you visit, which that site uses to record your activities within its pages.
For instance, when you buy items from a site and place them in your shopping cart, that information is stored in the cookie. When the browser requests additional files, the cookie information is sent back to the server. Cookies can remember other kinds of personal information, such as your password, so you don’t have to re-enter it each time you visit the site; and your preferences, so the next time you return to a site, you can be presented with customized information. Some people regard cookies as an invasion of privacy; others think they are a harmless way to make websites more personal.
Most cookies have an expiration date and either reside in your computer’s memory until you close your web browser or are saved to your hard drive. Saved cookies are typically stored within your browser’s setting files.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Cookies Safe?
Cookies cannot read other information stored on your computer. Additionally, the only site that has access to a specific cookie on your computer is the site that put it there. Most cookies are quite useful. They provide a consistent experience each time we return to our favorite sites, make online shopping possible, and provide many of the security measures we rely on when accessing confidential sites like our online bank accounts. Cookies are also used to gather website statistics, which allow site owners to improve the content they provide.
However, third-party cookies, also known as tracking cookies, can track our browsing and shopping habits across multiple websites. These types of cookies are placed on your computer not by the sites you are visiting, but by the third-party ads that appear on those sites. Since these same ads appear on other sites across the Web, their cookies are able to track you on any of those sites you visit, compiling a rich profile of you. These cookies allow the advertiser to create targeted ads based on your past browsing, sometimes going so far as to include your name or location in the ads.
Most browsers offer a number of solutions for getting rid of cookies. Some allow you to select a level of cookies you’re comfortable with, and many browsers now offer a Do Not Track option, which sends notice to websites you visit that you prefer to opt out of third-party cookies. There’s no guarantee sites will honor the request, but it can be helpful. You can also remove cookies once they have been downloaded to your computer. For specific information about managing cookies, see Controlling Your Clickstream.