NSA Web Site Spies On You Since the NSA has been caught illegally spying on people recently. I hardly believe that the cookies are inadvertant.

This is so wrong on so many levels…

First, web browser cookies are not scary. In fact they are about as scary as … cookies (the kind you’d munch on). Cookies let a web site remember a bit about you from the last visit. This is something like a helpful shopkeeper who remembers you from the before, and does not waste your time asking the same questions on every visit.

Years ago, when the software folks at Netscape came up with “cookies” they were only trying to be helpful. They did make a mistake in that they did not at the time consider the ways in which the information in “cookies” could be misused. The problem was pretty simple - a bad site could read all your cookies, not just the ones created by their site. The fix was equally simple, and all current web browsers prevent bad sites from stealing cookies.

There is still a way in which cookies can be abused. Advertising outfits - the kind that put banner ads on lots of different pages - can keep a history of all the sites you visit on which they have ads. Given that advertising outfits tend to be a bit weak on ethics, this history may be more information than you would like them to have. One common (though not necessarily universal) feature of “spyware blockers” is the ability to block the less ethical advertising outfits.