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.comment: Big Brother's Cookies - page 2

We're From the Government and We're Here to Help You

  • November 6, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Any online security policy has to take cookies into account. Popular browsers for Linux give the user control, though not as much control as any reasonably concerned user would want. Netscape, for instance, gives you the choice of turning off cookies entirely--a good choice, but one that prevents you from visiting many sites (such as the extremely high-cookied New York Times) and from engaging in online shopping at a lot of sites. Or it lets you turn off third-party cookies. Or it lets you allow all cookies. In addition, it allows you to be notified everytime a site wants to place a cookie on your machine, a useful exercise if only to give you the sense of just how bad the problem is.

With Netscape, though, there's a good solution available: just make your ~/.netscape/cookies a symbolic link to /dev/null, and tell Netscape to enable all cookies. Then cookies are neatly transported to the bit bucket. The ones you need for shopping and the like are typically memory resident, meaning that they'll stick around until you close the browser. And yes, close your browser every so often to dump the memory resident cookies you no longer need.

With other browsers you can do much the same thing, finding whereever it is that the cookies are stored and symlinking it to /dev/null.

There's a certain satisfaction, having set up a pathway to oblivion for cookies, in knowing that you've confounded people who want to put encrypted crap on your computer.

In that this piece is about government cookies, I suppose that the ghost of Mrs. Koehler, my ninth-grade civics teacher, insists that I mention that you can also raise hell with the government, write letters, send email complaints, and so on. Consider it mentioned, but consider, too, that the White House itself claims that it can't keep its agencies from spying on you.

And keep in mind this unhappy fact: the cookie situation, inside government and especially outside it, is not likely to get better. It is likely to get worse. Yes, crackers are bad. So are cookies.

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