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Do I have anything to fear regarding cookies?



Are cookies dangerous?

No. Cookies are small pieces of text. They are not computer programs, and they can't be executed as code. Also, they cannot be used to disseminate viruses, and modern browsers allow users to set their own limitations to the number of cookies saved on their hard drives.

Can cookies threaten users' privacy?

Those cookies  stored on the computer's hard drive cannot access the hard drive - so a cookie can't read other information saved on the hard drive, or get a user's e-mail address etc. Cookies only contain and transfer to the server as much information as the users themselves have disclosed to a certain web site. 

A cookie is simply a piece of information in the form of a very small text file. It is generated by a web  server, which is  the computer that operates a web site. The information the cookie contains is set by the server and it can be used by that server whenever the user visits the site.

Below is the content of a typical cookie. This one is from the Hotmail service and has the filename [email protected] (.txt is the standard filename extension for text files):

HMP1 1 0 1715191808 

32107852 1236821008 29449527 * 

(This particular codes will only make sense to Microsoft's MSN Hotmail servers.)

Cookies make the interaction between users and web sites faster and easier. Without cookies, it would be very difficult for a web site to allow a visitor to fill up a shopping cart or to remember the user's preferences or registration details for a future visit. Our site uses cookies mainly because they save time and make the browsing experience more efficient and enjoyable and because they provide us with anonymous information about how our site is being used, so we can improve it.

Session, or transient cookies.

These are cookies that are stored in the computer's memory only during a user's browsing session and are automatically deleted from the user's computer when the browser is closed. These cookies usually store a session identifier that is not personally identifiable to users, allowing you to move from page to page without having to log-in repeatedly. Session cookies are never written on the hard drive and they do not collect any information from the user's computer. Session cookies expire at the end of the user's browser session and can also become no longer accessible after the session has been inactive for a specified length of time, usually 20 minutes. Our site sets session cookies to enable us to analyse how our pages are being used. This information is aggregated and nothing is ever associated with you individually.

Permanent, persistent, or stored cookies

These are cookies that are stored on the user's computer and are not deleted when the browser is closed. Permanent cookies can retain user preferences for a particular web site, allowing those preferences to be used in future browsing sessions. One example might be a username, a cookie for which would mean the user doesn't have to put a username in every time he or she visits. Permanent cookies can be used to identify individual users, so they may be used by web sites to analyse users' surfing behaviour within the web site. These cookies can also be used to provide information about numbers of visitors, the average time spent on a particular page and generally the performance of the web site. They are usually configured to keep track of users for a prolonged period of time, in some cases many years into the future. Our use is restricted to anonymous data: we don't note any details about you personally.

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