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Author Topic: Mini-HowTo: Handling Cookie Privacy the Right Way  (Read 11626 times)
mouser
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« on: January 20, 2008, 07:01:59 AM »

This is a tiny little how-to guide that will show you how to handle cookies in a way that preserves your privacy, but lets you browse the web conveniently, and requires minimal effort on your part.

Cookies are tiny files created on your computer when you visit certain websites.  Most often they are used to enable websites remember who you are.  They are also occasionally used by advertising services to track your behavior across multiple sites [Read more].

For people who are very concerned with their privacy, their are tools that act as watchdogs over all cookies (e.g. CookieCop), and you can configure browsers to block all cookies except those you approve, and get an alert any time a new website tries to add a cookie (firefox extensions).

The main problem with these utilities and addons is simply that they can require too much trouble on your part, approving and rejecting cookies every time you visit a site.  And it may seem like a waste to run one of these tools constantly.

Plus, it's increasingly the case that a site simply requires cookies be enabled in order for you to navigate around the site, so blocking cookies completely while you are on a site is just not going to be an option sometimes.

I've found that the most sensible approach is to use a cleaning utility which allows you to keep a whitelist of cookies you want preserved, and then simply delete all non-whitelisted cookies occasionally.

One simple free tool that can do this well is CCleaner.

CCleaner is actually a very good general purpose cleaning utility.  Here i'll just show you how to use it to eliminate unwanted cookies and preserve your privacy.



First, install CCleaner, and then open it up.  You'll see a page like this:



Make sure the options to clean cookies is checked both for Internet Explorer (on main page), and Firefox (on application page).



Then, click on the Options at bottom left, and press the Cookies button.  You should see a display like this:



If it's the first time you've configured it, you'll see a bunch of sites listed on the left, and none on the right.  Select the sites on the left which you trust or visit regularly and want to remember you.  Move them to the right hand side and they will be forever preserved.

For those you don't recognize, I'd say just go ahead and leave them to be deleted -- worst case scenario you'll have to log in to those sites again since they won't remember you until you do.  Remember that deleting a cookie is never going to remove your login info from a site, it'll just make it so the site won't recognize you until you log in.



The cookies you configure to "Keep" will forever more be left alone -- all those you leave in the left hand pane will be deleted whenever CCleaner runs its cleaning pass.

Using this method of cookie cleaning means that all cookies are allowed on your pc at the time you are browsing without you ever being annoyed with a pop-up or getting some error because the site couldn't save a cookie it needs for you to navigate on the site.  But then at your convenience you can easily wipe out all the cookies from sites other than those you trust.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2008, 07:33:18 AM by mouser » Logged
Lashiec
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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2008, 02:25:38 PM »

One of the things I like about Opera is site preferences. I have configured the browser to accept all cookies, but delete everything on exit, except for those sites that I visit often, and keeps settings in them, which are configured to not being deleted.

The ideal way would be to only accept cookies originated from the site, but it seems this is no longer an option, as I had problems in the past with Hotmail Windows Live Mail, GMail and PhotoBucket, complaining about deactivated cookies or terminating my session unexpectedly. I guess an external server is handling some cookies essential for the sites, or they are somehow reading my cookie policy and forcing me to accept tracking cookies or something, who knows... Maybe this is why Firefox 2.0 no longer has three options in the cookie policy, it's either accept or reject everything.

Talking about Firefox, CookieCuller is a very good extension for managing cookies. CCleaner is a good option, BUT after a while, the number of cookies can be overwhelming, and the provided information is zero. Either way, it's a better option than not using anything, especially if you use IE (no cookie management thingie)

Also, I want mouser's CPU and amount of installed RAM.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2008, 02:28:41 PM by Lashiec » Logged
Grorgy
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2008, 02:41:27 PM »

I use the CCleaner method, its really quite easy.  I first tried to go through all the cookies i wanted to keep, then just gave up and deleted the lot, then, with a clean start I just go through a relatively short list of new ones and only keep the ones i want.  These days mostly i just delete them all apart from the ones I've saved.
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jgpaiva
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2008, 03:19:59 PM »

Thanks for the tips on cookies handling in opera, lashiec!
I'm now using your method too tongue
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« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2008, 05:55:07 AM »

i'll have to give this a go ..smiley
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justice
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« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2008, 06:01:28 AM »

Great howto, but is it really worth all this troubler? Tracking cookies get detected by most spyware software, and generally there's not that much personal information stored in the cookies other than the "login remember me" stuff that warrants this kind of approach? Or is the situation more severe than I thought it was?
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mouser
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« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2008, 06:22:29 AM »

My general feeling is that it's not a big deal at all.. I think it's fine to leave all cookies alone forever and don't worry about it.  But on the other hand i get a small sense of happiness when i wipe out all these annoying cookies that i don't want smiley  Sort of like the feeling out of having a clean house smiley
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Lashiec
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« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2008, 01:29:58 PM »

One thing I noticed though, is that in this day and age, maybe there's no even need to use any kind of cookie handling scheme, as most sites do not have anything to configure for the end user. For example, DonationCoder only uses cookies for session handling (for what I saw), but there's no settings (outside those saved in your forum profile) to set up some particular color in the background or make the page wider, unlike other sites. So, depending on what sites you hang around, you may check up "Delete cookies when I exit <insert your favourite browser here>", and you won't have to worry about cleanup.
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Darwin
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« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2008, 11:58:27 PM »

Also, I want mouser's CPU and amount of installed RAM.

Ooh... yes! Me too

Re: cookies. I used to be obsessive about cleaning cookies out and have used at various times Buttuglysoftware's CacheClean (abandoned now, sadly, I believe), BillP Studio's WinPatrol Pro, Ashampoo WinOptimizer, and Webroot's Window Washer to manage them. Typically, the freebie (CacheClean - which is similar to CCleaner) was as good, and in some cases superior, to the shareware alternatives... I don't worry about cookies anymore beyond spyware and adware and simply have real-time sw/aw monitoring enabled and that's it. Every once in a blue moon I'll run one of the above solutions, but those days are getting fewer, and farther between. If you are worried about cookies in general, take mouser's advice and use CCleaner or CacheClean if its still available (it too is an excellent all purpose general cleaner, though it lacks CCleaner's Registry Cleaning function).
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« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2008, 01:51:56 AM »

How does mouser have 4GB of ram unless...  ohmy

Is mouser running Vista x64?  ohmy ohmy ohmy ohmy tellme

EDIT: Okay, I'm not very observant. It says right there Windows XP 64bit SP2.
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« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2008, 10:48:54 AM »

There is another way to handle cookie management in Opera, IE and Safari, which is to disallow 3rd-party cookies by default. This stops ad servers setting cookies and gets rid of most of the detrimental tracking cookies.

BUT, Opera follows the HTTP/1.1 specs to the letter, and disallows 3rd party cookies even on redirects. This actually breaks quite a few sites. Therefore, Lashiec's method is also the one I recommend for Opera users. In fact, this white-list method is really great, and the best way to deal with cookies, all the benefits on "good sites" with none of the dangers anywhere else.

IE and Safari bend the rules with 3rd-party cookies, compromising security for login convenience AFAICT. You may still hit snags, and 3rd-party blocking is not what I'd recommend for novices. Firefox used to have 3rd-party cookie control, but removed it some time ago, thus forcing you to use extensions. The extension I tried (forget its name now!) was good, allowing per site overrides as Opera allows.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2008, 10:53:57 AM by nontroppo » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2008, 05:06:24 PM »

Unfortunately the CCleaner method of cleaning cookies only works IF you have an installed browser.

I don't.

My XP-SP2 has been nlite'ned to remove IE and a lot more, (the core still remains for those retarded programs that still need it), and I use Portable Firefox - in fact, wherever possibly I only use portable applications and my machine has never run more stable.

For cookies, I just set Firefox to accept all and clear on exit - this just tells Firefox to set all cookies to session only.

I also use the CustomizeGoogle plugin which stuffs up their tracking  tongue
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« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2008, 10:56:02 AM »

Maybe a bit off subject but can anyone tell me where search information in IE7 is stored.  For instance, if I go to Google and type in a search phrase that info is stored somewhere because the next time I start typing in the search box a list of possible matches show up.
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Lashiec
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« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2008, 12:15:10 PM »

Well... it's not stored in a convenient form for easy access and modification, as you may see.
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« Reply #14 on: February 11, 2008, 01:58:45 PM »

Thanx Lashiec.  Nuthins ever ez.
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« Reply #15 on: February 11, 2008, 10:27:43 PM »

One of the things I like about Opera is site preferences. I have configured the browser to accept all cookies, but delete everything on exit, except for those sites that I visit often, and keeps settings in them, which are configured to not being deleted.

This is precisely how I do it as well -- I'd once upon a time started out blacklisting everything and allowing only preferred cookies, but that made browsing . . . difficult.  After adopting this method, my cookie jar became just right. Not too many cookies, just my favorites. Easy to find without digging.

My general feeling is that it's not a big deal at all.. I think it's fine to leave all cookies alone forever and don't worry about it.  But on the other hand i get a small sense of happiness when i wipe out all these annoying cookies that i don't want smiley  Sort of like the feeling out of having a clean house smiley

My sentiments exactly. I'm not really *worried* about the cookies, I just prefer to have things a bit tidy.

--Anyone know a good tool for synchronizing cookies among browsers? I'd love to copy my tidy opera cookies over to IE/FireFox.  I used to have an Opera/IE/Netscape app that did that, but it stopped being useful back before Netscape died. . . d'oh.
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Lashiec
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« Reply #16 on: February 12, 2008, 06:42:14 AM »

BTW, Firefox users are also getting site preferences in Firefox 3 (though it's not hailed as a major feature), so that's one less extension to install. Only IE remains as usually. Well, you really have site preferences regarding cookies, but it's not very convenient nor accessible.

Mmmm, a tool to sync cookies? Is that even possible? tellme
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allen
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« Reply #17 on: February 12, 2008, 06:54:21 AM »

Mmmm, a tool to sync cookies? Is that even possible? tellme

I don't see why not -- as it stands, Firefox can import cookies from IE and maybe Opera. Just need someone who knows enough obout the big three's cookie storage formats to convert them back and forth a bit.
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Lashiec
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« Reply #18 on: February 12, 2008, 06:55:49 AM »

Oh yeah, that's right. I forgot about that ability embarassed
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« Reply #19 on: February 14, 2008, 08:29:52 AM »

for Firefox the CS Lite extension I highly recommended
If you visit a lot of pages and (considering the volume of cookies - sometimes about 10 per site) thats a lot of data
I block all and allow the ones YOU need (should become obvious)
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