The Internet - About Cookies

Useful Cookies
Annoyance Cookies
Sinister Cookies
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Stopping Cookies
About Cookie League Table

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Anyone who wasted time reading those boring personal bits knows - I love cookies - golden brown, piping hot, straight from the oven! But those maddening scripts some internet freak with a perverted sense of humour labelled 'cookies' are a different animal!

Useful Cookies
Used for logging into sites where you need to register, be a member or need security for passing personal or credit card information. Most sites operating these cookies are fairly well behaved. Note: I say 'most' and 'fairly', no guarantees some will not go running to mama when you boot up telling tales on what you do with your computer - the mind boggles - a computer is such an unwieldy object!
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Annoyance Cookies
Set by marketing companies and those with something to sell, or an overgrown curiousity complex, who for various reasons, usually entailing parting you from your hard earned, wish to know your tastes in surfing - what you call commercial voyeurism. Some don't know when to stop - I logged on to a site yesterday, THIRTEEN cookies** were offered and the site hadn't downloaded - I didn't wait - went on my merry way to another site. This made my day - I refused their cookies and hadn't seen their main message. My rule is refuse up to 4 cookies then bypass the site - if they're that fond of using all the techno garbage they don't deserve to be seen. By not waiting for the page to download chances are you will not be logged by their counter*, so their hits will be reduced.
*Note: Some counters do not log a visit until a page is downloaded completely, particularly when they are placed near the end of a page. Also in this category are the so called 'magic cookies' - (what do they use in the cooking - pot?), used by Netscape and Explorer these can be stopped by changing the preferences - see Stopping Cookies below.
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Sinister Cookies
There is another, more sinister way companies or organizations could use cookies. Some of these little nibbles talk to mama every time you connect to the net - telling where you've been and how many times you return to particular sites. Have heard some might soon chat about what you have been doing while off-line - programmes used, etc., if so it will probably not be long before they give sight of even the most confidential documents stored on your hard disk, that maybe for the future. The recent introduction of Internet Explorer 5 and the privacy problems that have been reported with some Microsoft programmes have brought this 'big brother is watching' scenario eerily to life!

What right does anyone have to know where I surf - okay I can laugh that some FBI/CIA/MI5 goon is riveted to find out I visited dog training sites (with 4 dogs - you have to ask why!), or some found some particularly good recipes, thanks Maven. But suppose some idiot government decides it is against the 'public interest' to keep dogs or cook certain types of foods - I'm up the creek! To be serious, there are people who have more exotic tastes and might be embarassed if their workplace or partners knew - a cookie tracking this information could lead to blackmail, and in the hands of an unscrupulous government to discrimination and imprisonment. Supposedly, and I say this only because I read it somewhere, cookies can not tell who or where you are, your telephone or address - but then my grandma always told me 'paper is patient'. Me, I believe a little paranoia is a healthy asset. When, as happened the other day, I logged on to a site (without accepting the cookie) to download a programme, I was told the version of the programme I had chosen was not available as my platform was incompatible - the computer generated notice then went on to specify the computer, operating system and browser (including the version) I was using and suggested another version of the programme I wanted would be compatible. If it could tell that much without my accepting a cookie - what would it have been able to find out had I been a foolish little girl and disobeyed my mummy by taking sweets from strangers!

Back to censorship
Okay, I am taking a long way back to my hobby horse, but cookies and over anxious governments could be a pretty nasty cocktail. The danger in suggesting removing sites because of their content is that so many of us might agree to the removal of the overtly criminal or unsuitable sites or those that encourage criminal or unsuitable behaviour. However, the definition of 'unsuitable' tends to be so flexible in the minds of those making these suggestions I wonder whether some of the sites they want removed not because they are criminal but because they upset someone's sensibilities or sense of morals. As a self-confessed prude I would probably be upset to view some sites - but what's the fuss about, I can quickly go to a site I find more congenial. Should our kids be protected from sites which are sexually explicit? In my view yes - but the people who should do the protecting are the parents. Parents must take responsibility for their kids and not use the Internet and television as a cheap form of baby sitting. Protection of vulnerable adults is a poor excuse for spying, it could so easily lead to them being prosecuted for visitng these sites. What good does it do to persecute or prosecute the poor sick bastards that visit them? A bit like prosecuting the hustler, but not the john - it takes two to tango!

I'm not so naive I don't realize drug dealers, paedophiles and other criminals use the net. I might be wrong but I was under the impression these had been with us back almost to the days of carving notes in stone - it is almost a definition of perversion that it will use any technology, no matter how crude or sophisticated, to further its aims! I don't believe a basic sickness in society can be dealt with by censorship - metaphorically shooting the messenger. What is needed is not censorship but a society that cares enough to try to cure, but that is a whole new discussion.

Governments must take their heads out of the sand and recognize that throwing money at cookies, imposition of censorship, unfavourable publicity about the net and trying to create 'back doors' on encryption programmes will not stop the spread of this revolutionary media. That's the crunch, that word 'revolutionary', it sends cold shivers down the spines of even the most liberal of governments - to the many that are less than liberal it must seem the finger of doom is pointed straight at them.
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Stopping Cookies
Can you stop cookies? Sure, as soon as someone wrote a programme for the first cookie - there was some smart 'a' out there writing a programme to get rid of it.

Fool the Browser - I tried this trick recently and it appears to work very well. On Mac's the Netscape or IE MagicCookie is placed in the Netscape Preferences folder in the Preferences folder inside the System folder. To fool Netscape into thinking there is a MagicCookie already on your computer all you have to do is to save a new folder into your Netscape Preferences folder and call the new folder MagicCookie (it is essential to get the name correct - without spacings), I previously tried saving a word document in the same way but found some cookies could write themselves to it, with the folder there is nothing for the cookie to write on and as it looks as if there is already a Magic Cookie on your disk the browser cannot save another file with the same name in your preferences folder. I can then set my browser to accept cookies in the sure and certain knowledge that these will go drifting off into the wide blue yonder of cyberspace. PC users will have to find their own way to where the Cookie is placed on their disk and see if it works for them. (A friend who uses a PC on the Internet has apparently used this method and it works).

Other ways of stopping cookies:

First - On Netscape 3 you can set preferences to give an alert before accepting a cookie - giving the option to refuse. On Netscape 4 you can set these to alert, or refuse - not so practical if you regularly visit sites which need to recognize you (professional associations, e-mail sites, etc.). Other browsers have similar facilities. Be sure to check, browsers currently come with preferences set to accept cookies, and it doesn't look like they're ready to change this in the near future. Like mailing lists, cookies should be an 'opt in' rather than an 'opt out' option. A US government committee tried to persuade both Netscape and Microsoft to supply their browsers with the option set to 'refuse cookies', despite the known antagonism between their respective manufacturers both company's were adamant they were willing to supply browsers only with the 'accept' option as default. I suppose the argument is that the consumer has the choice to tailor the default once the programme is installed, but personally I feel 'personal choice' would be better served by the 'opt in' alternative.

- Try searching for 'cookies' under software or internet on search engines - you'll find other articles and programmes that will chew up cookies before they can get to the information on your hard disk. There is a good UK site at Cookie Central, lots of information about Cookies, their history and use and misuse. If being 'netted' makes you realize that even recreation is political there is a good link at Zdnet (ain't there always!).

Third - in my trawls through the Internet have come across a cookie basher for Macintosh: - Cookie Monster, place it in the start up folder and it munches up the cookies on start up.

For those of you unlucky enough to be operating 'what do you call 'ems' I've heard that Cookie Cutter PC is effective, as well as deleting cookies it contains a tutorial about the little 'bs'. Just checked out my links and it might also be worth your while going to the Cookie Monster link above - they do one just for you - aren't they nice!

Okay, so I'm biased towards Apple - but see how liberal I am in giving useful information for the 'what's its'!
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**Cookie League Table
Have started a 'cookie' league table - unfortunately didn't hang around long enough to get the site of the one that started me off on this and had a crash immediately after so couldn't find it again, but think I found one that more than makes up for the loss.

Check it out for more cookies straight from the oven! Check out the page - with all this writing haven't had time to surf much since I got the idea, so there is only one entry at present, but hopefully, with your help that will soon change. To make an entry in the league table send the following information

name of site:
date visited:
number of cookies:
your name and e-mail (I won't publish this without your okay)
If you want add your URL - I'll try to put it in as well especially if you put a link to my pages - as I say elsewhere - a little blackmail always goes down well!

e-mail the information to me or put on the guestbook (if you're shy there is a private button). I'll compile the table and post it on site on a weekly basis - or more frequently if it warrants.
Member, Association of Internet Professional

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