Disadvantages of Cookies on a Computer
By Kim Linton
Cookies on a computer are files that contain information like surfing habits, server settings and type of browser. Once the data is collected, the Web server places the cookie (file) on the user's hard drive. If the user visits the site again, the server retrieves the information from the file, then uses it to identify the visitor.
In some ways, cookies make browsing the Internet faster and easier. Since cookies allow a website to know who you are, they can tailor your browsing experience based on previous visits. For example, certain websites customize site information based on your location (city). Also, after you have registered on a site like Amazon, for example, you do not have to enter the same information every time you visit the site.
Although cookies make browsing the Internet a bit easier, they are seen by many as an invasion of privacy. Since most websites will not allow their site to be accessed unless cookies are enabled, browsers are usually set to accept cookies by default. As a result, cookies are being stored "invisibly" on your hard drive every time you browse the Internet. Since your IP address is usually collected, your browsing history and online activities become public knowledge.
Cookies are actual files that are stored on your hard drive. The more you surf the Web, the more cookies you accumulate. Cookies build over time, and can take up quite a bit of storage space. Also, your browser may start and run slower, and your system may lag or hang up if hard drive space is limited. Fortunately, browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer have options to clear the cache and delete cookies either manually or automatically when you exit the browser.
When you visit websites that contain ads, third-party cookies (from sites you've never visited) can also be placed on your computer. Web servers then retrieve the third-party cookies to gain information about you--your lifestyle, spending habits and browsing frequency, for example. The information is usually used to obtain more sales and clients, but is also often shared with other unknown individuals, groups or websites.
Most websites collect information about you for legitimate reasons. However, there are some individuals and groups who collect personal information for unscrupulous purposes. They may sell the information to third parties, or even use it to hack into social networks or other online accounts. If you decide to keep cookies enabled on your computer, at least disable third-party cookies (an option in most browsers), clear your cache regularly, and be very careful about the kind of websites you visit.
Kim Linton is a political analyst, computer technician and ministry advocate who has been writing for the Web since 2001. Her work has been featured on major news sites including "The Wall Street Journal" and "USA Today," and has been published on a variety of niche sites including "Woman's Day" and "Intel." Linton holds degrees in business and marketing from Indiana University.