Internet security is the buzzword of the moment. There’s a lot of paranoia about privacy these days. Some of it is justified.
For what it’s worth, I tend to think that cookies do not currently deserve much paranoia. There are hypothetical ways in which information from cookies could be used in insidious ways by advertisers, but I’m not aware of anything like that happening in the real world – at least not yet.
Cookies are little files left on your computer while you visit various web sites. When Amazon greets you by name and remembers your shopping cart, that’s the result of reading a cookie on your computer. When a shopping site offers recommendations based on what you bought the last time, or when you don’t have to type in all your address information again – all that is remembered in cookies.
Pretty darn convenient stuff. And they’re so widely used that the tools that block cookies by asking permission quickly (very very quickly) become a pain in the neck. You can wind up being asked about whether you want to accept a cookie five and six and ten times per page. If you turn them all off, you lose the ability to have sites remember you, and the web becomes less friendly and less personalized.
Nonetheless, there are privacy issues. You can get a start on learning about some of the good and bad issues about cookies by visiting CookieCentral.com, or Netscape’s brief discussion of cookies and privacy.
The best way to start reducing your exposure to cookies is to download Internet Explorer 6 (available through Windows Update at the top of your Start menu). IE6 has added some new privacy features, including effective cookie blocking with a range of choices for how seriously paranoid you are. Here’s some info about the cookie blocking features of Internet Explorer 6.