Helping you balance your online life

What Are Cookies Doing to Your Computer?

Conceptual keyboard - Cookies (red key)
You know those not-so-yummy types of cookies that show up on your computer? The ones that aren’t baked into perfect, melt-in-your-mouth sugary bites of happiness? We’re talking about the cookies used to transfer information between the website you’re visiting and your browser. They help the website and any advertisers on the website track when you visit and what you view—kind of like leaving a trail of cookie crumbs to show where you’ve been. Cookies aren’t all bad, but you do need a basic knowledge of what to look out for so that you aren’t handing all your personal information over to hackers.

Cookies may be helpful. Have you ever saved your login information on a website so you don’t have to type it over and over again? Have you ever left items in an online shopping cart to purchase on your next visit to the website? Maybe even provided your zip code for local weather on your homepage or opted out of targeted advertisements? Cookies let you do that. They save your information from websites to your browser for later retrieval.

But cookies may be misused.
Some websites may not be secure, allowing hackers to intercept cookies and view the information they carry. The cookies themselves are not harmful, but because they may carry sensitive information, you should only use cookies on sites you trust to be safe and secure.

Plus, they can be downright annoying.
Have you ever clicked on an ad and later noticed more and more advertisements for the same product? Advertising networks can set and use cookies to track the ads you’ve viewed, and then show you similar advertisements to try and increase the relevance of their ads to you. Cookies can also slow down your computer. New cookies are constantly being created as you visit websites, taking up disk space, which may eventually result in slower computer speeds.

What can you do about cookies?

  • Delete cookies. If you go to your browser’s settings, there will be an option to clear cookies. This allows you to effectively reset your browser. However, if you do this, you’ll lose your saved login information from that browser. In addition, if you turn off cookies you may not be able to visit some websites.
  • Update your antivirus software. If you want to keep your cookies, make sure you have up-to-date antivirus software. Antivirus software flags suspicious cookies and helps prevent them from being used to steal information.