May 1999 - [Page 1] [Page 2] [Page 3] [Page 4]

      INTERNET  COOKIES
           Compiled by  Carroll Palmer

Here is a compilation of information about Internet "Cookies" that may assist you in dealing with them during your surfing of the Internet.
Internet "cookies" are little files fed to computers that ride along the Internet visiting World Wide Web sites.  Consider them as Internet marketing devices.  To those who maintain Web sites, they provide a thimble of information about who is stopping by and what their preferences are.  To those who have found favorite web sites, cookies enable the site to tailor its offerings to what it assumes the "steady customer" is looking for.
Browsers such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Explorer can be set to trigger a warning each time a cookie wishes to be set.  The notification of a cookie wishing to be set upon the user's hard drive usually occurs upon first arrival at a Web site.  But it also occurs while using search engines or when following various links within a particular site.  Most cookies are set to return back to their originating Web site after a certain period of time.
Cookies are usually used to keep information about the user so the Web site can better respond to  the internet user's interests.  They cannot normally glean confidential information from someone's computer, but there are concerns that certain programs could pop in viruses that might run applications or even turn off a computer, but viruses can enter anyone's PC in many other ways. 
Cookies cannot retrieve e-mail addresses nor can they steal sensitive personal information.  Earlier implementations of Java programming language and its program JavaScript allowed the retrieval of such information, but those security leaks have since been plugged.
According to Peter Kay, president of CyberCom Inc., cookies are not the problem.  He said that customers who look to CyberCom to design their business Web pages are concerned about the growing negative stigma related to cookies as they flash upon a computer screen.  Businesses that want to find out information about those who are visiting their home pages do not need cookies to do so.  Prior to cookies, other technology existed to accomplish that.  "It is too easy to gather information about you anyway, and that's the problem," Kay said.  "No standards have been established to deal with that problem. We can expect to see a lot more development in that area."
It is well known in the trade that Netscape and Microsoft have made efforts to cooperate on privacy issues to try to keep government control out of the Internet.  By creating more secure systems by which personal information, such as credit-card numbers or demographics are relayed, these companies hope to head off the need for government regulation.
For those who are brave enough to shop on the Internet, cookies are used to store information about selections that are placed into a virtual shopping cart.  This allows for the user to purchase the contents of the shopping cart at one time, instead of individually.
Some Web sites charge users to read articles they maintain.  Rather than charge each time an article is selected, cookies allow for the user to accumulate articles for the user to pay for prior to leaving the site.
Some Web sites allow a user to register a name, address, e-mail address and other information.  A cookie at the Web site stores this information and uploads it each time the user returns.  At the same time, the user can indicate the topics of interested and the site would have that type of information readily available as well.
Repeat visits to health-and-fitness sites might track whether the user is interested in weight loss, a particular sport or a special diet program.  Not only would the Web site tailor the information it provides to the user, but it might also allow for advertisers to "push" information onto the page that might intrigue such user.
Web browsers set aside a small amount of space on the hard drive to store cookies and it will not provide information secured on a particular cookie to any site except to the one that placed it.  The Web sites can use the cookies to determine if 50 different people are visiting their site or if the same person is visiting 50 times.
Those who are still leery about filling up their hard drives with cookies should keep in mind that browsers maintain a first-in, first-out mechanism to clean out the hard drive.  Up to 300 cookies can be maintained before the browser starts deleting the oldest ones.   As previously indicated, to disallow cookies from inserting themselves on the hard drive, browsers provide a menu to block them from sneaking in, either by automatically rejecting all or allowing the Internet user to selectively admit them.