Cookies are files containing information about visited web sites which are stored locally on your computer. They allow for instance when using an online shop to store products you like to purchase in a virtual shopping cart. They also allow to store your “surf behavior”: what did you click on and where have you be coming from and what else did you click on. This data can be used by service provider to draw a profile of your way through the internet and their sites, to study what you are interested in, what you read, what your purchase, what “purchasing patterns” you have.
Sometimes cookies are beneficial for you. For some sites like your blog host for example or social network profile host or file/photo/video sharing service or some other site you visit regularly cookies might give you some convenience in speeding up the login procedure and automatically recognizing you when coming back. For many other sites you would prefer to secure your privacy and don’t leave any traces on your computer so that those sites actually can recognize you when coming back and generate some profiles about you to for instance bomb you with some more “customized” advertisements.

Modern browser like Firefox allow to disable cookies at all (check off “Allow cookies from sites”). This is probably the most secure way to protect your privacy but the least convenient. Some web sites you want to visit might not work at all. The next best solution would be to delete cookies when closing the browser. This is a quiet recommended setting and possible in Firefox through the Privacy dialog you get when invoking Tools->Options (“Keep cookies until I close Firefox”).

Now – since you actually might want to keep cookies from some sites you trust to make surfing to those sites more convenient as I described above a smarter solution is to use one of the many cookie handling extensions available for Firefox. The one I am using and can recommend is “View Cookies CS“.

First of all it is a nice tool to keep track of what cookies a particular site is storing on your computer ( by selecting the “Current Website” option from the drop down ) instead of showing all cookies. It also allows you to delete those cookies for a particular web site.
Another very useful feature is the capability to export and import cookies from/to a file. And here is how I use this:

  1. First of all I deleted all cookies.
  2. Then I started visiting those sites I trust and exported cookies into a file.
  3. Every time I have the feeling that there are two many cookies on my computer from sites I don’t trust I simply purge them all and import my file with cookies from sites I trust. When visiting a suspicious site I check “their” cookies with “View Cookies CS” and purge them.
  4. When I notice some time later that I hit a site which I actually trust but because of deleting cookies from that site it does not recognize me anymore I do the folloing:
    1. Delete all my cookies
    2. Import my cookie file with cookies from trusted sites
    3. Sign on to this additional site I trust
    4. Export again all my cookies overwriting my cookie file

That way I keep building a file of cookies from trusted sites and have better control of what cookies from what sites I like to keep permanently.

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