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Internet Snacks

Cookies: Bits and Bytes About Users

By Robert Lagas

If you consumed the article on spam (Jan. 27 issue) and came back for more, you are a real Internet glutton. If you think cookies are just the tempting treats from mom's oven or the bakery, you really should read this. In the Internet world, cookies are batches of data (about you) that are kept in a "cookie jar," the hard drive on your computer. You may not be aware that Web servers have the capability of storing information about your Internet travels and preferences without you knowing they are doing it. The cookies may save you time (you may be able to enter a Web site without having to enter a password after your first visit), and what you see at a Web site can be tailored to the material that you are most likely to be interested in.

The information maintained by cookies is determined by your browser and the Web sites that you visit. When you return to a Web site, it can access the cookie data on your hard drive and tailor its presentation based upon the information collected earlier. The cookies also provide a record of the Web sites you have visited. Some browsers allow you to set an option to be notified and deny a request to put a cookie in your jar. Your system may also allow you to control the amount of disk space that can be used to store the cookie data. Check with your help desk personnel or your LAN administrator.

What should you do about your cookies? Should you eat them, save them, or throw them away? You can't really eat them, but you can read them and delete them. You might like to know what is in your cookie jar before you make any decision about your cookie files. In Windows, look for a file named cookies.txt; in the Mac, the file is called MagicCookie; and in UNIX the file is named cookies. If you would like more information about cookies, visit or

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