I get asked this question all the time in varying formats…anywhere from the perennial classic “What’s a cookie?” all the way to the more rare “Oh god, I think I got a cookie in my computer!”  However, cookies are one of the least worrisome thing on your computer, as long as you’re only doing reputable tasks while on the internet (a topic we’ll dive into in a future post).

its so simple!

its so simple!

Imagine you’re at a conference – if you’re my mom, that means it’s a yoga conference, and it also means that there are people quite literally from all corners of the world and a enormous variety of names. Well, if you were presenting at the conference you would likely have hundreds of different people coming up and introducing themselves to you (these yogi’s are a particularly friendly and outgoing bunch, trust me). How in the world would you remember them? Worse yet, how embarrassing would it be if you had to reintroduce yourself to people when you had just chatted a few minutes ago but couldn’t remember their name (hi, have we met?)

This is why we use name tags in real life. Every person ends up wearing a name tag at our imaginary conference, so that you don’t have to remember how to distinguish Mohinder from Frank. In the same way, most of the websites you commonly visit are like presenters at a conference, where they have the daunting task of trying to distinguish thousands (or millions) of visitors to their site. Well, websites that use cookies are basically putting a name tag on you to help them remember… casually patting each person on the back while sticking a “This is Frank” tag on their back to help them remember. Thus, cookies are essentially used on the internet as tiny tiny name tags (usually only one line long, like name = frank), in order to provide you a better experience.

So, this is how websites can remember who you are… most commonly seen as “Welcome back, Frank!” when you visit a page you’ve been to in the past. While cookies are used for a wide variety of specific reminders, rest assured that overall they are just letting the site know that “Hey, this guy has been here before. Let’s not treat him like a newcomer.”

Yes, yes, I know what you’re saying, cookies can be bad. They certainly can, but only if you are doing really creepy stuff. If you stick to the basics and don’t stray too far into the crevasse of obscure websites, you’ll be fine. Just remember – cookies can only get information that you actually give them, so be careful anytime you are filling out a form asking for sensitive and private information.

Plus if you want, you can always get rid of all cookies on your computer. The only downside to this would be similar to everybody forgetting who you were at the conference all at the same time in the blink of an eye. You’ll be starting from scratch again and reintroducing yourself to every website as if it’s the first time.

Clear private data from firefox: http://support.mozilla.com/en-US/kb/Clearing+private+data

Clear cookies from internet explorer: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/278835

Clear cookies from safari: http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?path=Safari/3.0/en/11471.html