Do You Delete Your Cookies? Do You Delete ALL Your Cookies?

- May 11, 2010

Depending on the research report that you’re reading, anywhere from 0.5% to as many as 20% of people on the internet are actively deleting their cookies. Cookies are small text files that store data about the web sites that you visit on your computer. Web analytics tools like Omniture SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics use first-party cookies to collect anonymous usage data about their visitors, so that web site owners can improve their sites and marketing efforts. Web sites featuring secured log-in areas also need to use cookies to remember who you are on your next visit, and web sites that you visit frequently like message boards need to use cookies to remember your site’s preferences and settings.

Cookies – for a long, long time – have gotten an unfair, bad rap. It’s so bad that users will actually go out of their way to delete these cookies off of their machines, even though new cookies will be set as soon as they visit virtually any web site on the world wide web. The reasons for deleting cookies are as varied as the ingredients in a New Orleans style jambalaya. Some say cookies take up too much space (they don’t, cookies never exceed four kilobytes, which is the equivalent to a grain of sand on a beach); that they infect your computer with viruses (they don’t, or the internet would be completely inaccessible, which is isn’t); or, that they are used to spy on your computer (most cookies can only be read by the site that sets them, and the domain [the URL of the site] is “hashed”, which means that it is encrypted with a numerical algorithm).

So, when folks delete their cookies and feel that their internet browsing experience is that much safer, are they really deleting ALL of their cookies? The answer is surprising: no, they are not. Flash cookies, which are set by flash applications, are not stored or viewable in the same places are the regular text cookies that folks have been deleting for all of these years. Because Flash is so prominent (installed on almost 99% of all computers), virtually everyone who has been online has at least one flash cookie installed on their computer, without even knowing it.

These flash cookies can store up to 100K of information, which is a bit more than 25 times what the regular browser cookie is allowed to hold.

Deleting your flash cookies can be done on your computer, but it’s a lot easier if you visit the Adobe Flash Player settings page, where you can find the Website Privacy Settings panel. Click on the little folder icon (which should be the last one of the right-hand side on the top row of icons) to view what sites have set flash cookies on your computer.

If you didn’t know that flash cookies existed, let alone know that you probably have some flash cookies set on your machine, then that is the greatest argument that I can make for not deleting your cookies. You wouldn’t have even known about flash cookies until you read this blog post, so how big of a part do cookies play in the grand scheme of things? Does what you don’t know hurt you?

So, do you delete ALL of your cookies? πŸ™‚

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