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Tech Issues: revenge of the cookie monsters.

By now, you've heard of Internet "cookies" and realize they're not just a tasty midnight snack. In the world of Cyberspace, a cookie is a small string of text that a Web server dumps on your hard drive. Designed to enhance the browsing experience, this mechanism contains bits of information that reveal which sites you've visited and what you did there. For example, if you visit a site that requires a sign-on, cookies leave data to ensure you'll have to key it in only once. They also form the basis of the shopping-cart concept in electronic commerce, allowing you to leave the site and return later to find the items you originally selected in your cart.

So why all the controversy? As cookies pass information back and forth with each visit, they eventually build detailed profiles that are used by third parties to deliver targeted advertisements and e-mail messages to Web site visitors.

According to Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a site developed to enforce a surfer's "right to be let alone," the information obtained through cookies could be subpoenaed or sold. Once your identity becomes known to a single company listed in your cookies file, other companies could have access to your information. Although Catlett admits that we haven't seen specific damage performed by cookies, he believes the potential is obvious and dangerous. Besides, they can take up space on your hard drive.

For the most basic cookie protection, you can configure your Web browser to alert you when a Web site tries to send you a cookie. In Netscape 3.0, try the Options menu: go to Network Preferences, then Protocols. Select "Show an alert before accepting a cookie." (Don't forget to save your options settings.) In Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0, try View, then Options, then Advanced, and check "Warn before accepting cookies." Later versions of these browsers also have this feature. These solutions are limited, however, and in sites that can try to set up as many as 20 or more cookies, the "alert" function can be quite annoying. For more specialized protection, a handful of software companies have developed several new-cookie managers to help you control the cookie invasion. We've sifted through this assortment of "cookie cutter" programs and have provided you with the pros and cons of each of them. Choose the package that would provide you with the level of protection you need.

Luckman's Anonymous Cookie for Internet Privacy (free; Protect all of the cookies in your browser's cookie directory or file--instantly. In this utility, one button enables or disables access to your cookies. It supports Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Be warned: this is an all or nothing deal that doesn't allow you to choose between various Web servers.

Internet Junkbuster 2.0 (free; Users can selectively block offending commercial objects such as cookies and ad banners, while preserving all the other images on Web pages. Surfers may also choose to block some sites completely--X-rated sites, for example. The software is free, but the company charges clients for support and services.

Cookie Master (freeware distributed by ZDNet; This utility enables you to access each cookie so that it can be evaluated individually or eliminated together.

The program supports both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. It doesn't work in the background, so users need to set aside some time for cookie cleanup.

Crumbler 97 ($10; For Netscape Navigator users who don't want to be bothered by any cookies at all, this utility will blast those crumbs right out of your hard drive. Every 45 seconds, Crumbler 97 zaps all cookies that Web servers attempt to dump on your hard drive. Again, this land mine approach does not allow you to select which cookies you may want to keep, but you can be completely cookie free at minimal cost.

Cookie Crusher ($15; It automatically accepts or rejects cookies from specified servers using the 32-bit versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator with or without the user's interaction. If you want to crush cookies already on your system, this program allows you to view them and choose which ones you want to delete. The program can be instructed to load your browser whenever you load Cookie Crusher itself--a function that allows you to keep continuous tabs on those cookies.

Cookie Pal ($15; This friendly utility doesn't require user interaction but can be set to request user confirmation when a cookie is received from an unknown site. Wildcards allow cookies to be accepted or rejected from a group of Web sites under the same domain. The program keeps a detailed list of the cookies that were accepted or rejected for the current session, and also allows management of cookies that were already stored on your system. Cookie Pal works with Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.x and 4.0 and Netscape Navigator 3.x and 4.0. This item offers everything you need in a cookie manager.

SoftDD Complete Cleanup ($29.95; softdd). Simply point and click to start the cleanup process because this program doesn't come with an installation routine--just a single executable file. Not only does this cookie utility rid your system of unwanted cookies, it also sweeps out other unwanted debris, newsgroup activity, cache files and history databases. However, you can't choose which ones you want to eliminate; cookies, history or cache items are washed away in one swoop. If you don't mind this limitation, Complete Cleanup is a simple utility for one-stop purging.

IEClean32, NSClean32 ($40 each; NSClean is designed specifically for Netscape browsers while IEClean is designed specifically for Microsoft Internet Explorer users. Both programs operate under the premise that cookie management is just one solution to the privacy problem and offer a number of functions to address other security issues. The software allows users to remove newsgroup activities, newsgroup databases, cache files, history databases, cookies, e-mail messages, URL window data, bookmarks and other sensitive data kept by a browser. Another feature allows surfers to use an "alias" while online. Neither IEClean nor NSClean can be set to perform these functions automatically, nor do they operate in the background. Also, there is no option to hide these records rather than destroy them. But for users who don't have the experience to manually edit the contents of their hard drive, these programs provide a comprehensive alternative.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Techwatch; Internet privacy is protected by cookie software applications
Author:Brown, Monique R.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:May 1, 1998
Previous Article:Technology Spotlight: a literary giant in the making.
Next Article:Mr. Smith goes abroad.

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