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How do you clear cookies on your computer?

When you think of ‘cookies’, your mind probably goes to delicious, chewy chocolate chip goodness. However, when it comes to your computer, cookies have an entirely different meaning.

You might have seen pop-ups about websites tracking you with cookies and not thought anything of it – but are cookies harmful and should you regularly delete them?

Well, you want your web browsing experience to be as private as possible, and computer cookies can give you the feeling that you’re being watched – essentially, they’re tracking what you do across the internet. Knowing more about what a cookie is and what it does can help you decide if you want to get rid of it.

Here’s everything you need to know about cookies and how you can clear them on the three most popular browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Safari.

What is a computer cookie and how does it work?

Also known as web or browsing cookies, computer cookies are files stored in your internet browser that record your activity on websites. They track things like:

  1. Movement through a website – so which buttons you’ve clicked on or which pages you’ve visited.
  2. The information you’ve filled out in forms, like your username and password or your address.
  3. Items added to a digital shopping cart or your activity on a site, so the site can advertise or market to you.

Cookies aren’t a new idea – in fact, they were first invented in the mid-1990s by developer Lou Montulli for Netscape when the company was creating an ecommerce (online shopping) platform for a client. The goal was for the cookies to track and store the items people put in the digital shopping cart on their web browser.

Montulli referred to them as magic cookies and they’re now a staple of the internet, being used to serve up ads, letting you shop for a new pair of shoes or remembering your personal information to save you time filling out forms.

Are cookies bad for my computer?

There are a few different types of cookies, each with its own trait. They’re normally as harmless as the baked goods they share a name with, but some cybercriminals can exploit them.

Here’s a list to help you figure out what’s stored on your computer:

  • First-party and third-party cookies are pretty straightforward. First-party cookies track information captured by the website you’re browsing on while third-party cookie information is data gathered by a vendor, for example a digital advertisement service.
  • Secure, HTTPOnly and same-site cookies have security features built in to prevent hackers from taking advantage of them. These are the good guys of the internet.
  • Session and permanent cookies are time-based cookies. They’re either deleted when you quit out of the browser or after a certain amount of time. 
  • Supercookies and zombie cookies are malicious cookies. These are the villains in this piece – and they can steal sensitive or important information. You don’t want to run into these guys!

Usually, cookies are useful to users. They save information like your passwords or the URLs of the sites you’ve visited so that you don’t have to remember them yourself. If you’ve ever been shopping online or signed up to a site, it’s always useful that the site can remember you because the website is tracking and storing the information you’ve given it.

However, that doesn’t mean that you should automatically give every site permission to track you, or that you should keep your cookies forever. Privacy is important and every now and again you might want to clear out the information that sites have on you.

You can use cookie blockers either through security suites or with a web browser extension so you can choose the types of cookies that are okay to run in the background

Every now and again, you should delete the cookies stored on your browser as they can have a minor impact on your internet browsing speed, though consider keeping the ones on websites you use regularly for shopping, social media or any other services where you need to login.

Alternatively, you can always click the option to decline cookies when you go on a new website, though the domain may not let you enter as some sites require cookies to work properly. 

How to delete cookies on Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Safari

Google Chrome users can delete their cookies by:

  1. Navigating to the menu button, which looks like three dots aligned vertically.
  2. Clicking on ‘settings’.
  3. Scrolling down the end of the page and clicking on ‘Advanced’.
  4. Finding content settings.
  5. Clicking on ‘Cookies’ and either deleting each one individually with the trash bin icon or selecting ‘Remove All’.

Mozilla Firefox users can delete their cookies by:

  1. Finding and selecting the menu button, which looks like three bars aligned horizontally.
  2. Clicking on ‘Library’, then history.
  3. Click the ‘Clear Recent History’ button and change the time range to whichever suits you.
  4. Ensure that you’ve ticked the ‘Cookies’ box, as well as any other archived material you want to get rid of and press ‘Clear Now’.

Safari users can delete their cookies by:

  1. Clicking on the ‘Safari’ dropdown button next to ‘File’.
  2. Finding ‘Preferences’.
  3. Going to the ‘Privacy’ section.
  4. Clicking ‘Remove All Website Data’ or clicking the ‘Details’ button, where you can delete them individually or in batches.

After you’ve completed your cookie purge, consider investing in a security suite that can help you manage your cookies and provide recommendations on which should go or stay. Privacy is everything on the web and even though cookies are usually harmless, it never hurts to play it safe.

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