|For readers of my 8/3 Metroland story (an early version
appears below) about about Internet
cookies, here are some links to other Web sites dealing with this and
other online privacy issues.
- Glenn Weiser
How Cookies Threaten Your Privacy
How To Create Cookies
CNN Cookie Story
on Cookies /1997
The Cookie Page
Internet Cookies-From Web Street Studios
Cookies and Other Internet Privacy Issues
CNN Story on FTC Online Privacy Ruling
|E-Privacy-How to Make the Cookies Crumble
By Glenn Weiser for Metroland magazine.
July 28, 2000
Corporate gremlins peeping through our electronic keyholes. Big Brother in our motherboards. In the cyberspace invasion of privacy, the most bemoaned intruders have been Internet "cookies," the small files secretly planted on our computers by large web sites which act as moles and relay information about where weve been on the Web back to the site's server or online advertisers. But despite alarms sounded in the media, what the talking heads never seem to mention is that cookies can be easily removed from your computer and also prevented from being placed there at all. This wont be news to nerds, but if youre in the general population of light duty computer users, read on.
What you dont want crashing your gate, though, are "persistent" cookies-files that can stay on your computer for upwards of thirty years informing an online ad server where youve been on the Web. And as it happens, the default settings of both Netscape and Internet Explorer allow cookies to infiltrate your computer. Hit an adult site lately? You might be mortified to know whos watching. And according to the Federal Trade Commission, you can't do anything about what is done with this information.
Typical of the news coverage on cookies was a 20/20 episode reported by Barbara Walters earlier this year. After a primer on cookies, Walters showed the Web site of a major Internet portal like Yahoo!. Cookies from the site placed on two different computers had tracked the surfing patterns of the users and reported them to the online advertiser DoubleClick, and voila!-banner ads at the tops of the two screens plugged different products, each targeted to the users taste. At the time, DoubleClick was being sued by the state of Michigan over privacy issues. But Walters, who I used to consider a smart cookie, said nothing about how viewers could protect themselves from the eavesdroppers.
Seeing no email link on the 60 Minutes page, I tried to draft a letter, but wound up crumpling it in disgust. Did Walters even know ABC was guilty of the same thing? If she did, her report was the pinnacle of cynicism. Otherwise, she was clueless.
A quick check revealed that the Web sites of CBS, NBC and CNN also place persistent cookies, as well as those of local TV stations WNYT and WTEN, and the Albany Times Union. It would seen the media only wants to tell you half the story - a better informed public might be bad for business.
Resistance to cookies is mounting. The European Commission is considering regulating them. The state of Michigan has just accused four major web sites of concealing the presence of Web "bugs," or invisible 1-by-1 pixel graphic files that prompt users browsers to trade cookie data with third parties.
Worse yet, Uncle Sam just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar-visitors to the Federal governments anti-drug site Freevibe.com were winding up with cookies, which then sent their surfing data to DoubleClick. If users who had been to Freevibe later typed a keyword phrase like "grow pot" into a major search engine such as Alta Vista, they got an anti-drug message in DoubleClicks banner ads at the top of the page. When this was discovered and reported to Congress, the White House announced that the government was backing off and Freevibe would stop planting cookies.
To the dismay of online privacy advocates, FTC just voted to approve a self-regulatory plan proposed by the Network Advertising Initiative, a group of major Internet advertising companies which explicitly allows servers to collect people's browsing information and match it with their names and addresses. Surfers must opt out of being profiled and/or identified by checking a box, rather than opting in at all. DoubleClick was jubilant over the ruling, but critics charged that foxes will now be guarding the henhouse. Morover, DoubleClick just merged with the mail-order company Abacus, raising the specter of more junk mail at your door coordinated with banner ads on your monitor screen
Heres what you can do. First, toss your cookies by using the Find function to locate any that might be on your hard drive. On a PC, go to Start/Find/Files or Folders. Make sure the Name and Location tab is selected, and in the Named field, type cookie*.* (*.* is the "wildcard" file extension which finds any type of file named "cookie." Some of the buggers can show up as .gif files rather than the usual .txt, so this is important.). Click on Find Now, and when a window appears showing cookies, select them and hit the Delete key. On the Mac, the Find File feature is in the Apple Menu Items folder.
How to keep cookies off your computer depends on which browser you are using. In Netscape 4x, go to the Edit column on the menu bar. Select Preferences, and in the Category window of the dialogue box, select Advanced. In the Cookies section, select the radio button that says Disable Cookies. If you use Internet Explorer, go to Tools on menu bar, select Internet Options (on a PC, you can also get there by going to Start/Settings/Control Panel and double clicking on the Internet Options icon). In the Internet Properties dialogue box, select the Security tab, and in the Security Level section, place the cursor on the control knob and move it upwards all the way to High. Cookies will then be disabled. The AOL browser makes disabling cookies difficult (I suspect this is by design), so you may want to consider using another browser for surfing the Web. Cookie busting software is also available, but these remedies are free.
If you hit a site that requires you to accept a cookie and you need to allow it, temporarily change your browser settings back to enable cookies. After youve left the site, change them back and use the Find command to weed out any cookies that may have snuck in. Also avoid giving out personal information online. These precautions only take a minute, and theyll go a long way to shield you from greedy eyes as you wander the Web..
Home | Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar Books | Harmonica Books | Music Lessons | CDs
Harmonica Main | Celtic Main | Blues Main | Fingerstyle Main | Woodstock 69 | Reviews
Free Celtic Guitar Arrangements | Free Celtic Harmonica Arrangements | Online Celtic Tunebook
Writings | MySpace Page | Discographies | To Order Books | Contact | Links | Translate