Cookies—what could be wrong with such deliciousness? Well, even a certain monster on Sesame Street is less into gluten these days. Maybe that’s because his beloved snack food had its name co-opted back in the 1990s by the little data files that websites use to improve your experience (and track your activity).
Cookies get stored on your computer when you’re using a web browser. The cookie gets read by the server on the other end of the connection. Most of the time, cookies are a good thing—without authentication cookies, you’d constantly be entering usernames and passwords as you surf websites, over and over, on every page. Cookies also make it possible for online shopping carts to work without losing all your items before purchase.
But, cookies can also be used to track you. When you visit a site, you may not get a cookie from just the server for that site, but also a tracking cookie from the advertisers on that site—that’s called a third-party cookie. Those can be used to look at where you’re going whenever you visit a new website—tracking your moves, so to speak. This has long had privacy advocates up in arms, even though cookies typically do not collect any personalized information.
The problem is, blocking or deleting all cookies is almost crippling to your web adventures. But letting every single cookie through compromises your privacy. So what do you do?
One option is: nuke all existing cookies. Then you can take some control back. How you do it depends on the desktop or mobile browser you’re using. Chrome and Firefox users, I’d suggest you install the Click&Clean extensionand use it to take care of cookies. But there are manual methods.
After you do that, take advantage of the built-in controls in each browser to limit the cookies you get. At the very least, you can always block the third-party/advertiser cookies. It’s not foolproof, as advertisers can find ways around that simple option, but it’s a start. There are many extensions that help you control cookies on browser like Firefox and Chrome. Check out their respective web stores/repositories for options.
Google Chrome (Desktop)
Click the hamburger icon () in the upper-right corner to get the Chrome menu, and select History—or type “chrome://history/” without the quotation marks in the omnibox (aka the address bar). Click Clear browsing data on the left.
In the pop-up box, check off the second and third boxes to delete cookies and clear cached images and files. Just pick a timeframe from the menu at the top.
To manage the cookies in Chrome, type “chrome://settings/content” in the omnibox. You can tell Chrome to allow data from local sites you actually visit, only keep that data until you close the browser, or block cookies altogether. The best option: Block all third-party cookies and site data. You can also set exceptions—if you block all cookies, you might to still allow them for, say, Amazon and NYTimes.com, just so you don’t have to re-type your password all the time.
Click See All Cookies and Site Data to see a list of the cookies actually installed locally on your computer. You can go through them one by one and delete as desired.
Google Chrome (Mobile)
Access the menu via the three dots in the upper right () , and select Settings > Privacy > Clear Browsing Data. Check off the selections for Cookies, Site Data and tap Clear Browsing Data. Tap it again in the pop-up, and then hit Done. That’s all you can do; you don’t get any granular controls over existing cookies and can’t block third-party cookies alone.
Mozilla Firefox Quantum
Firefox recently reached a new speed with Quantum. The browser is twice as fast as the last Firefox update before it.
Click the upper-right hamburger stack () and select Options > Privacy & Security. Go to Cookies and Site Data. Click Clear Data and then check Cookies and Site Data and hit clear to remove your entire cookie history.
Select Manage Data if you want to choose which sites from which to remove cookies. You can also select Exceptions to tell Firefox to accept cookies from sites (and set up exception sites to always block or allow).
Go to the menu and select Settings > Privacy > Cookies. You get three choices: Enabled, Enabled Excluding 3rd Party, or Disabled. To erase all cookies, at the bottom of the Privacy screen, under Clear Private Data, check the box next to Clear on Exit. You’ll get another pop-up to pick Cookies & Active Logins, among other settings.
Internet Explorer is dead, long live Microsoft Edge. The default Windows 10 browser is fast, has webpage markup, and is integrated with Cortana.
To clear cookies, select the three dots () and select Settings. Scroll down to Clear browsing data and click Choose what to clear.
To manage cookies in the futute, click the three dots () and then Settings, scroll down to Advanced Settings and find Privacy and Services. Go to Cookies and choose from the options: Don’t Block Cookies, Block Only Third-Party Cookies, Block All Cookies.
By default, Safari is only taking cookies from sites you visit. You can make changes to that by going to the Safari menu (gear icon, naturally) and selecting Preferences > Privacy and looking under Cookies and Website data.
Click Remove All Website Data > Remove Now to kill all cookies; click Details to pick the cookies you crush.
If you’d like to manage how Safari handles cookies, on that same Privacy tab you get four options for blocking: All from third parties and advertisers, allow from current website only, allow from sites you visit, or never.
To manage the cookies Safari will take, click an option under Cookies and Website data to either always block, allow from current site only (not third parties), allow from all visited sites, or allow all cookies.
With Safari, unlike other browsers, both desktop and mobile, you don’t access the cookie settings by opening the browser itself. In iOS, go to Settings > Safari >Privacy & Security and toggle Block All Cookies to on.
When you want to kill all the cookies, choose Clear History and Website Data. To kill just select cookie data stored by websites (and keep your History), scroll down to Advanced, then Website Data. You’ll get a list of the sites storing the most data; at the bottom of the list click Show All Sites to see the full list. Delete the data for sites you don’t recognize or trust; you’ll sleep better at night. Or clear them all by clicking the bottom link: Remove All Website Data.