Cookies are not necessarily your friends

Cookies are everywhere, and the web can’t run without them (particularly with so much content supported by advertising). Nowadays, you almost have to accept them in some form in your browser, or site functionality is hampered.

But what really are they? Where do they come from? Do you have to watch out for them?

The Week answers those questions and a few more. And in my favorite style. Plain english, sticking to the facts, etc. etc. So I’ll just say thanks.


Kelson says:

It would have been nice if they’d said something about cookies being used in, say, shopping carts, or web applications, or storing preferences. The closest they came to it was mentioning in passing that they store your login and password on some sites, but you could assume from that that it just meant letting you log back in the next time you came back. Often, your login session is handled using cookies. You put your username and password into a form, the site verifies it, and sets a short-term cookie indicating that you’re logged on and who you are. Often these cookies will expire in a few hours, or when you close your browser.

Cookies aren’t just about giving the web a long-term memory. They’re also about giving it a short-term memory. Without them, it’s like trying to have a conversation with the main character in Memento: every time you load a new page, the site forgets who you are. Sure, there are other ways than cookies to handle session data, but they can get ugly. If you think URLs are long and complicated…

Hence my emphasis on needing them for functionality. I also think we will start seeing more and more pervasive cookies over time – or should I say not seeing them.

Unfortunately, our network infrastructure, combined with growing mobility, prevents any real feasiblity of binding trusted cookies (the ones you really need for your favorite websites to function properly) to IP addresses. For the risk averse (or simply paranoid), the only options are to keep lists of trusted sites for which you will accept cookies, and hope for the best, and block or periodically flush the rest.

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