The digital world is a complicated and dangerous place. What do you do with those ubiquitous cookies on your Mac?
Over one third of Mac users check and delete the cookies on their browser; Safari, Firefox, whatever. What about the Flash cookies on your Mac?
What? You didn’t know there was such a thing as a Flash cookie? Guess what? You’re not alone. Most Mac users have never heard of Flash cookies, including yours truly.
This weekend I received an email about Flash cookies from Mac360’s Kate MacKenzie, once again traveling somewhere in the wet and cold of Scotland for who knows what reasons, though it may have something to do with heritage, finding roots, or a need to use up frequent flyer miles before the end of the year.
Kate pointed me to a Mac360 Forum post about Flash cookies. I thought, “Flash cookies? What’s that?”
Then I checked Safari’s cookies on my Mac. Yes, it was full of more cookie crap than usual, so I deleted what I didn’t think was worth much, but took special glee in deleting those cookies that might be worth something to sites which dare to infringe my privacy (like Mac360—sorry).
I couldn’t find anything in Safari that had anything to do with Flash cookies.
Web browser cookies, sometimes referred to as “HTTP cookies” or the plain and simple “cookies” are pieces of text sent by a web server to a web browser, then sent back again whenever that browser visits the same web site again.
Cookies are used for tracking online behavior, maintaining information about specific users, site preferences, shopping cart information and so on. Many internet users don’t like cookies because they track a browser’s behavior, so there are advantages and disadvantages to cookies.
Mac users can view and delete cookies in Safari’s preferences. You may decide to accept all cookies, no cookies, or specific cookies, or check each cookie offered and accept or decline.
If you visit a lot of web sites, chances are more than good that your browser has collected a lot of cookies. What about Flash cookies?
Many Mac and Windows users delete their cookies, which often disrupts the collection of information for various web sites you visit. Web site marketers don’t like that so Adobe (formerly Macromedia) developed yet another way to skim information from unsuspecting Mac and PC users. Flash cookies.
Flash cookies are capable of gathering and storing much more information than normal cookies collecting by a browser. A standard cookie cannot save more than 4 kilobytes of information, while a Flash cookie can save up to 100 kilobytes of data. Worse, you cannot easily find the Flash cookies on your Mac.
That brings me to the point of checking cookies in Safari (other browsers also allow for cookie preferences, including deletion). In Safari, click the Safari menu item, then select Preferences. Click the Security button, then click Show Cookies. This will display a list of the standard HTTP browser cookies that are collected on Safari.
There are not many options for cookies. Accept always, never, or only from sites you navigate to, which would not include advertisers on those sites. That’s my usual selection. After that, about all you can do is delete what you don’t want.
Flash cookies are different. They collect much more information, and they’re not easy to find. Fortunately, some alert Mac360 readers found a way to edit Flash cookie preferences. Click Here to see the Flash Player Settings Manager for your Mac.
Use that Settings Manager to modify, edit, delete the Flash cookies on your Mac. The first tab is Global Privacy Settings. The second is Global Storage Settings, to specify how much space you want to provide to Flash cookies.
The third setting is Global Security, which is similar to the standard cookie settings in Safari. The 4th and 5th settings actually list the Flash cookies that have been collected on your Mac. I had about 50 Flash cookies. You may delete what you don’t want, and assign specific functions to each.
Are cookies dangerous, whether standard HTTP browser cookies, or Adobe’s well-hidden Flash cookies? Yes and no. Generally, no. But cookies contain information, and that information can be hijacked by internet thieves via session hijacking and other means, such as cross-site scripting.
So, cookies are not perfectly safe, but then, the internet is not a perfectly safe world. I check my Mac’s cookies from time to time. Now I have to check the Flash cookies, too. Some web site, particularly e-commerce sites, won’t even let a browser visit when cookies are turned off.
The paranoid mommy in me says it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s easy to see why Adobe didn’t make a big deal out of Flash cookies. They’re great for web site marketers, but for the general web surfing public, Adobe doesn’t want anyone to know what’s happening on their own computers.
What about you? Do you have an aversion to cookies on your Mac? If so, why so? Do you edit the preferences or delete cookies on your Mac? Talk Back to Mac360 readers in the Comments section below.