'Cookies' a Necessary, Manageable Part of Internet Diet

Published 11.30.2004


Spyware and cookies are unavoidable aspects of today's Internet experience. They both are placed on your computer without your knowledge, and both are capable of recording your Internet activity.

Unlike spyware, which has virtually no legitimate purpose and can be a serious threat to your computer and your personal information, cookies are a necessary part of the Web.

Reputable companies and organizations rely on cookies to save you time and make their Web sites more effective. For instance, an online store uses cookies to manage your shopping session and to remember you the next time you visit the site. Auto manufacturers sometimes use cookies to allow you build a virtual car, right down to the color of the interior and choice of accessories.

Although most cookies are useful, some can present a privacy risk. A data-mining company can use a cookie to track your surfing habits, gather additional information through various databases, and then sell the combined profile to marketing firms and spammers.

As conscientious consumers, we want a balance between functionality and information privacy. The best compromise would be to enable cookies on sites that you visit regularly and block cookies on sites you only visit while casually surfing the Web.

Thankfully, most browsers give users this control. Internet Explorer, for example, allows the user to decide between blocking all cookies except those specifically allowed, accepting all cookies or restricting cookies based on their level of risk. (More is available on these options from Microsoft's support Web site.)

Selecting a higher privacy setting will prevent some Web sites from functioning correctly. Also, you will have to remember usernames and passwords for those sites that require you to log in. The setting that works best for you will be the one that gives you an acceptable level of privacy protection without greatly interfering with your surfing habits.