Keep track of cookies before they keep track of you.

Companies try to personalize web site experiences for their visitors. Some remember your login name and password for your convenience upon subsequent visits. Others offer news, stock quotes, and weather tailored to people’s interests and location. This is done with a cookie, a small file created by the site, that collects specific information about your preferences or web browsing activities and stores it on your PC. Allowing all cookies, however, is unacceptable for those who care about privacy.

Although cookies are often used in such ways that are beneficial to you as you move across the Internet, many more are not. Such cookies are used with the sole purpose of gathering information and are beneficial only to those who place them on your computer. Tracking networks such as DoubleClick and MSN LinkExchange use cookies to monitor which site you were on when you clicked a particular banner ad and what you did once you got to the advertiser’s site. They can put cookies on your PC and then read them across many sites – tracking your surfing habits and building a profile about your preferences. This information is then resold numerous times to online marketers and advertisers.

Even worse, e-marketers are forever searching for holes in browser’s and e-mail clients that let them expose information in cookies, and some developers have found ways to sneak a look at cookies that belong to different sites. Though software patches are eventually released to fix these particular problems, many users never install them. Such vulnerabilities can lead to identity spoofing and credit card fraud.

Though this can be alarming, you are not left without the option to take control of the cookies that are used to invade your privacy. Although a more involved approach can be taken, and often is by very experienced users, you will completely close this privacy gap as long as you apply basic cookie management techniques.

Basic Cookie Management
Close this privacy gap!

Apply browser updates
Even if you use content filters and are cautious with security issues, you should always add this extra layer of protection.

Never allow your browser to “Accept All Cookies”
Most browsers accept all cookies by default. This can be risky, but the alternatives can be disappointing – setting your browser to “Reject All” can deny you any personalized web experience, and being “Prompted” for each cookie is just plain annoying. There is a better solution…

Install cookie filter software
This is the best solution! Cookie management programs, or filters, are easy to configure and include help files with examples to get you started. You set the rules by telling the filter which cookies to accept and which ones to refuse, and many of these programs have additional options for filtering ad banners, web bugs, and URLs as well. Some also include event logs that record the filter’s activity while you are online. Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer have expanded their cookie management options with versions 6, but you still might consider using one of these external programs for greater flexibility and control.

The use of a cookie management program is an important step in securing your privacy over the Internet. Remember to always be discriminating. Only accept cookies from sources you trust and always refuse cookies from companies who have a reputation for building advertising and marketing profiles. Remember, too, that some sites will completely deny you access unless you accept their cookie. Be careful. Know your source. If you follow these guidelines you will have the necessary protection against an unwanted cookie invasion of your privacy.

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