Column: Good cookies, bad cookies and what to do about them
Much of the recent furor regarding privacy over the internet has to do with cookies.
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Much of the recent furor regarding privacy over the internet has to do with cookies. Not the edible kind, like your mom makes; rather, cookies refer to small pieces of data put on your device by websites. Much like cholesterol, there are good cookies and bad cookies. What, then, can one do to avoid the bad cookies?
Cookies were invented around the same time the modern internet took off. Initially devised with good intent, they still serve some noble purposes. To keep things simple, let’s talk about the two main types of cookies.
First-party cookies are generally thought of as good. These are put on your computer by the website you are visiting. Some are temporary and used as you navigate through a website. They retain information so you don’t need to continually reenter data as you move from page to page. When you close your browser, these go away.
Some first-party cookies are permanent cookies that remain on your computer even after you close your browser. These are used, as an example, to remember your passwords and login information. Recent laws restrict the time a “permanent” cookie can stay on your device to 12 months.
When cookies were first invented, first-party cookies were what the founding fathers of the modern web had in mind.
Third-party cookies are what make folks see red. Often referred to as ad trackers, these are typically put out by advertising networks that pay websites to let them do so. Third-party cookies track your browsing habits and try to hit you with ads based on where you’ve surfed. Ever had an ad pop up on Facebook right after you’ve done a Google search for a similar product? This is an example of a third-party cookie.
While third-party cookies can’t be completely avoided, there are some steps folks can take to minimize the tracking of their browsing habits.
Since search engines are one of the most notorious purveyors of bad cookies, consider some alternatives to the big guys. Startpage.com, for example, is the self-professed “world’s most private search engine.” According to Startpage, it doesn’t store any of your personal information. Startpage also provides an “anonymous view” feature on all of its search results, which prevents the target site from figuring out who you are and reporting your visits to advertising networks.
One of the more popular options for privacy when searching is DuckDuckGo. Packaged as an extension to the most popular web browsers, DuckDuckGo blocks third-party cookies and makes your searches anonymous. Some folks, though, have complained that the results aren’t as good as, say, Google or even Bing.
Another option is to change your web browser entirely. The Brave web browser, www.brave.com, blocks third-party cookies and also provides you a report card showing you what it’s blocked. Firefox Focus is a mobile-based browser that purports to block third-party cookies, but in our experience, it also blocks first-party cookies in some cases.
John Agsalud is an information technology expert with more than 25 years of IT experience in Hawaii and around the world. He can be reached at email@example.com.