Internet cookies...nom,nom,nom

Have you ever wondered why you see ads for items you've previously looked at online? Those shoes you looked at on Amazon follow you around like a bad Halloween stalker appearing on site after site that you visit. This is the result of cookies. Not cookies you can eat, unfortunately, but ones that websites leave on your computer.

Internet cookies are small little files that can contain a variety of information with each site leaving different types of information. Shopping sites for example will leave information about what you looked at which can be accessed by other sites who may then pull in that information and show you similar items in the ad portions of their page. They will then get a small amount of money if you click on that item. It's a way for some sites to make money.

But cookies are also left on your computer for things like your username and password for a site. Next you time you visit a site that has saved a cookie for its login, the site will have autofilled in your username and maybe your password so you don't have to remember it. So there are also ways when it can be convenient to have the site remember you.

What to do if you don't want cookies to be saved from a website? Most browsers have a mode that will automatically delete your browsing history and all cookies after you close it. In Firefox and Safari it's called Private browsing, in Chrome it's Incognito, and in Microsoft Edge it's InPrivate. Browser settings with private window highlighted I use this a lot when shopping for items online whether I'm just looking up prices for something I'm really going to go pick up from a store, or for things that I'm going to buy online but don't want to see ads for afterwards.

You can also delete cookies manually by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Delete on a PC and Command + Shift + Delete on a Mac in most browsers.

Of course, private browsing also has its limitations. If you log into any online account while in a private browsing mode, you can still be linked back to sites that you've visited even after clearing the cookies from your computer. So while your computer may not know you've been there, the site you visited will.

All in all though, private browsing can be an extremely useful tool when you want to look up something and not have it follow you around the internet.


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