Tell Me About Cookies

Q: What are cookies?

A: A 'cookie' is a small amount of information which is generated by the web server, but stored on the hard disk of your own computer. Once the cookie is created, the web server can request your computer to send the information in the cookie back to the server at a later time. In most cases, the information stored in a cookie can only be read back by the same server that originally created the cookie.

Q: What do you use them for?

A: Each time you click on something on a web page, your request is passed to the web server, whose job it is to return something back to you (usually another web page). Believe it or not, when the web server receives you request, it doesn't know who you are! In many cases this doesn't matter. However, when a site requires you to login (like this one does), it needs to know that you are authorized to view successive pages.

To accommodate this need, the web server sends a unique number to your browser (to be stored in a cookie) when you view the first page. Thereafter, as each following page is requested, the web server asks your browser to return the cookie along with the request. By looking at the unique number returned from your cookie, the web server knows that you are the same person who requested the previous page. 

A: We use a cookie for one more purpose: Each time you return to the site, you'll need to log in with your Login ID and password. After you've logged in successfully, we save your Login ID in a cookie on your computer so you won't have to remember it. However, we  don't save your password - that's up to you. (Note that some web browsers offer to remember your passwords - this has nothing to do with cookies.)

Q: Are cookies harmful?

A: Cookies themselves are not harmful. However, some web sites use cookies in a way which may affect your privacy. Here's how:

Many commercial web sites include advertising banners. These banners (actually graphic image links) are provided by an outside vendor, usually a company that specializes in selling and placing ads on the web. The companies that provide these banners will often use cookies to keep track of which ads you have seen. Even though you are visiting different sites, the banner ads may all be coming from the same site. So a single cookie can be used by the advertiser to track your visits to multiple, different sites. Over time, the advertiser can compile statistics about your browsing habits, and ultimately, sell this information to others. Note that this site does not include any advertising banners.

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Last updated:
January 26, 2012

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