It always amazes me how some people create a tool that makes things easier for people and then other BAD people come along and take advantage of that tool to benefit themselves. Browser cookies were invented to make surfing simple HTML Web sites easier. A cookie can store any personal information you’ve given to a site, so you don’t have to enter it again when you click a different page on that site. Nosy webmasters have invented methods to steal your private information using cookies. New cookie types that aren’t easily deleted have emerged. MAXA Cookie Manager Pro 5.0 ($35, direct, for two licenses) identifies and manages all types of cookies including the self-restoring “evercookie”. It protects your privacy and security, though the implementation is a little sloppy.
Cookies can also store preferences and other information that you’ve entered on a site, so you don’t have to enter that data again. The cookie itself is a simple text file that’s stored on your computer and that, in theory, is only accessed when you revisit the corresponding Website. For example, the site can identify what browser you’re using, tell what page you linked from, and even get a rough idea of your physical location. Combining this data with any information you’ve actively shared, a site can find out quite a bit about you.
Given the possibility of inadvertently revealing private information, some users may be tempted to disable cookies entirely. Unfortunately, many perfectly valid Web sites just won’t work without cookies. Even when standard cookie handling is disabled, Web sites can utilize non-standard technology or browser-independent cookies. One researcher has created what he calls the “evercookie,” which stores data in multiple local repositories and uses this redundant storage to rebuild any deleted components. In the modern world, you can’t thoroughly control cookies using browser settings and manual deletion. MAXA supports seven popular browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Chrome. On installation it ensures that the supported browsers are configured correctly for cookie management. It also checks settings for Flash, Silverlight, and Skype, all of which include cookie-like technologies.
During installation, the product lists several dozen popular Web sites and invites you to check off any that you use regularly. Checked sites are whitelisted automatically, meaning the product never meddles with their cookies. Naturally, you can edit or add to the whitelist at any time. After installation, MAXA scans the computer for cookies of all kinds. When I ran it on the system I use for e-mail and editing, it turned up over 3,600 cookies. Most were ordinary browser cookies, but it found several examples of advanced-technology cookies specific to Internet Explorer and Firefox. It also found a few Silverlight-based cookies and a slew of Flash-based ones.