Web cookies usually not bad for you Help Line

August 03, 1998|By James Coates | James Coates,Chicago Tribune

When visiting certain Web sites, I frequently receive the following message: "You have received a 'cookie' from (the Web site address). Do you want to accept it?" Please explain what these cookies are. Could my computer get a virus from receiving a cookie?

Cookies are an aspect of the Internet that makes some folks' skin crawl, but frankly, there's a lot less to the cookie controversy than meets the eye. Cookies are small text files - usually named cookie.txt - that are created on your hard drive and contain information that you agree to make available to the sponsor of selected Web sites.

Most commonly, cookies hold data such as your screen name and password for the given site. Having the password in a cookie file on your hard drive allows you to automatically log on to the sponsoring site without continually retyping your password.

Cookies also might contain information about your preferences. For example, a newsletter site might use cookies to tell it to display files about companies in which you are interested. A cookie could also say you are a Republican or a Democrat, a Catholic or Protestant, a college grad or a high school dropout or any other information you chose to list.

Clearly, the idea of posting personal things in cookies runs counter to a lot of U.S. traditions about privacy and the mind-your-own-business ethic that most of us try to live by. You can order your browser to reject requests from Web sites to create cookies. In fact, that notification message you described in your question leads to a choice box where you can turn off cookies.

In this writer's humble opinion, cookies are no big deal. They do not pose a virus problem or threaten any other mischief short of prying into your private affairs.

I am an America Online subscriber and want an incoming telephone call to break me off AOL when I'm online. I have call waiting and have set the computer to dial *70 before signing on. Now the callers get a busy signal.

It sounds like you simply misread one of the instructions when you set up the AOL software. You need to remove the instruction to "dial *70" and then your modem will automatically hang up and put the voice calls through while you're online. Run your AOL software and then choose Setup instead of clicking on the Connect box. Click on Edit Location and remove the check from the "Use this prefix to disable call waiting" box and you'll be in business.

Let me make an additional suggestion. It can start to make you crazy when incoming junk phone calls knock you off the Internet. It's absolutely uncanny how these abrupt hang-ups occur at the worst time possible.

Using the *70 setting, you can disable call when you aren't expecting calls and then turn it on when you are. In my case, once the rest of the family is tucked in for the night, I turn off call waiting and get on with my most serious Web surfing.

Send e-mail to jcoateribune.com.

Pub Date: 8/3/98

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