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One cookie too many

Learn how to keep the raging hordes of cookies out of your system.

Computing, networking, Web-surfing, etc. on state-of-the-art equipment have rapidly become the norm for housewives, students, retirees as well as business moguls. According to A1 Electronics, major emphasis is now shifting to personal security for the Web, the Internet and e-mail. And it's not just home PC users. Business users, too, must arm themselves with information and software to keep their PCs from being loaded with "cookies" that keep track of the sites you have visited, the advertising you open, your personal information, as well as the time and dates of your movement through the Internet. IT administrators will have to be especially careful to ensure that cookies are not inadvertently giving away important company information.

Once a profile of a user's computing habits is captured, the information is offered to DoubleClick or Abacus, Web advertisers who are building a colossal database of consumer information. Ultimately, this info will be rented out to other advertisers who will be privy to personal and business information such as social security numbers, unlisted phones, credit reports, etc.

Cookies may be removed one by one but it soon becomes a tedious chore. There are several inexpensive software programs that will automatically remove these cookies for you. System Mechanic is an excellent one that kicks into action as soon as a PC is turned on. It goes into action checking cookies, cache and anything else that may clog up your computer. As you browse the Net, advertisers are collecting as much information on you as you allow! If you look in your folder called Cookies you will be amazed at how many there are and how much space they gobble up. They need to be removed, if only to conserve room on your hard drive.

There are several free programs that can be used for the same purpose:

* ZoneAlarm. You can block any access to or from the Web, Internet or LAN. It will inform you which sites are attempting to access your computer. It acts as a personal software firewall.

* ZoneLog Analyser is an add-on for ZoneAlarm and is free. It will read and display a log file of unauthorized attempts to access your computer.

* AdSubtract is a freeware program that will filter ads and cookies. It comes in three versions with varied levels of functionality. The highest is AdSubtract Pro, which blocks ads, cookies, pop-up windows, animations, music and more. It also includes Advanced Cookie Management, which highlights dangerous online profiling cookies. You can buy it for $29.95.

* OptOut is another free program that is used to deal with large advertisers like DoubleClick. It will find and remove these advertising programs from your system.

* Ad-aware is another free program and may be used in conjunction with OptOut.

The price is right. Try these free programs and keep your personal life private. (Got Milk?)

About the author
Barrie Sosinsky ( president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield, Mass.). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.

Related book

By Simon St. Lauren
Let Simon St. Laurent give you the full picture of how cookies fit into your Web tooklit and how they work with other tools: The truth about cookies' power to invade privacy, spread viruses and breach security; Details to help you create cookies with maximum functionality, including client-side cookie scripting and server-side cookie applications; Step-by-step instructions on delivering content tailored to individual users; Insights into the latest improvements to the cookie standard and new specifications from Microsoft and Netscape/Verisign, including the Open Profiling Standard; Sample cookie files and code; Advice on blending cookies and Java; Better ways to track site usage; Simulated cookies for browsers that can't handle them; Alternative routes when users hostile to cookies have turned them off; And the lowdown on higher-level user verification methods, such as digital signatures and encryption.

This was last published in February 2001

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