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Cookie Pal lets you control Web cookies
technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule


Cookie Pal lets you control Web cookies


Bit Player for April 25, 1999

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers

Nobody likes the idea of Web cookies. They're sneaky. They slip into your computer without your permission.

That's why a cookie manager makes sense. It puts you back in control of your computer.

I should explain what cookies are if you've never heard of them. They're signatures, in a way. Web sites send them to your browser. They're stored on your computer. The next time you visit a site that sent you a cookie, the site will look for the cookie and read it back. That way, Web sites can keep track of what you've done when you visited them.

Many of the cookies your browser picks up are used to track the advertisements you see on the Web site. Even when cookies don't seem connected to ads, they're used the same way. Cookies can be used to keep tabs on the searches you make, for example, so that a site will switch its ads to subjects related to your searches. (Type "motor oil" at a search site and you might be shown a car ad, for example.)

You can tell your browser to block all cookies (you'll find this option in the menus), but that's usually a bad idea. Many sites use cookies to store information that makes your Web browsing faster and easier. Microsoft's help sites keep track of your previous searches using cookies, and when you return to the site you can resume where you left off. Other sites use cookies to store password information, encoded so that other sites can't use it, letting you log on automatically.

You can also have your browser ask your permission each time a site tries to send or read a cookie. This would make sense if it were done intelligently -- if your browser could block cookies from certain sites and allow others, automatically -- but browsers don't do that.

That's where a cookie manager makes sense. It can keep a ledger of good sites (where cookies are OK) and bad sites (where cookies are never OK). When a site that's not on either list wants to send a cookie, a good cookie manager will ask you to make a quick decision.

Of all the cookie managers for Windows 95 and 98 I've tried in the last few months, the one that does the best job is Cookie Pal, from Kookaburra Software. It costs $15. You can download a trial version of Cookie Pal from the company's site at http://www.kburra.com/.

Cookie Pal works with current browsers from Netscape and Microsoft. The first time you run it, Cookie Pal will show you all the cookies stored on your PC -- there might be a lot more than you suspect -- and will let you delete any of the ones in its list. You can go back and see that list at any time. (Once Cookie Pal gets to work, your cookie list will be much shorter.)

When a cookie appears, Cookie Pal pops a dialog box (a small window) onto the screen. It tells you where the cookie is coming from and asks you to choose one of four actions: Let the cookie through this time only, block the cookie this time only, forbid the cookie always or allow the cookie always. Whenever possible, Cookie Pal shows a fifth choice -- always block all cookies from the root domain (the main site of the one trying to send the cookie).

Cookie Pal can alert you with sounds if you like. The sounds that come with Cookie Pal are annoying, and you might want to do as I did and choose sounds from your Media folder. (It's in the Windows folder.) I recommend having at least some audible alert when cookies are automatically rejected. You might be surprised to find that some sites are cookie-crazy. The beep-beep sound I use to signal rejected cookies tallied up 16 cookie attempts at one site allone, all within two or three seconds.

I especially liked the way Cookie Pal stays out of the way. You can run Cookie Pal manually, but that's dumb. You can also run it all the time, but that's not smart either. The best way is to tell Cookie Pal to start up when your browser runs. That way, Cookie Pal also closes itself down when you close your browser.


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