Cookies are tiny files that are downloaded and stored on the hard drives
of Internet users' computers just like the pictures and text from a Web
site. When a user returns to a site that has previously placed a cookie,
the browser sends information in the cookie to that site. The site then
"recognizes" the user and can deliver information to that user in appropriate
ways. Cookies allow Internet users to customize their experiences by, for
example, selecting layout, news preferences, language preferences, and so on.
Cookies almost always contain unintelligible letters and numbers, not
personal information. However, a Web site can associate the string of
characters in a cookie with a particular browser and collect information
about a particular user that way. This is complicated by the fact that
sometimes multiple people use a single computer to surf the Web, and
sometimes a single person uses multiple computers to surf the Web.
Users who are worried about revealing personal information to Web sites
using cookies can set their browsers not to accept cookies. All modern
browsers provide some sort of cookie management capability that allows users
to refuse them all, decide which to accept, or block them by site. There are
also several tools on the market that make it easy to read and edit cookies.
To the extent cookies present a privacy problem at all, it is a
problem that will vanish as consumers learn how their computers
work. Cookies are a privacy issue in the same way that window
drapes are a privacy issue. Consumers who want sunshine
open the drapes. Consumers who want privacy close the drapes.
Consumers who want customization accept cookies. Consumers who
want privacy do not accept cookies.
Cookies Work by Marshall Brain, HowStuffWorks.com
Aid for "Cookie" Eaters by Jessica Melugin, Competitive Enterprise Institute (August 3, 2000)