How to Enable or Disable Cookies

Why would I want to enable cookies?

As we've explained, cookies can be a nuisance for your computer.  Not only do they take up memory space (which can slow down your computer), but they also may be used by websites and other unscrupulous individuals to track where you've been and what you've done on the Internet.  So, then, why shouldn't we just shut cookies off completely and never even use them in the first place?

The answer is that not all cookies are bad.  There are some that are quite useful, or even necessary, in order for websites to function properly.  Consider these two points:

  1. Cookies are used to keep track of whether you're logged into a website or not, and whether it's you who's logged in or someone else.  Without these cookies keeping things in order, you could accidentally log into someone else's account with your own credentials, or stay logged in even though you told the website to log you out (or vice-versa).

  2. Some cookies save copies of information that you enter into a website, so that you can quickly use them again later.  For example, they may save your user name and password (so that you can quickly log in again), terms that you've searched for (so that you can quickly find something that you've looked for again), or identity and/or billing information (so that you don't have to fill out forms that require this information by completely re-typing them).

In short, whether you want cookies enabled or disabled depends on what websites you're using and what kind of balance you want between privacy and convenience.

How do I enable cookies (or disable them)?

The following are short-form directions for enabling or disabling cookies in each of the three major browsers.  If you'd like to see the process in full, complete with screenshots, we've included links to the expanded tutorials in our "Extra Resources" section.

Google Chrome

  1. Click the menu icon in the top-right corner (it looks like a set of three bars), and click Settings.

  2. Scroll to the bottom of the "Settings" page until you see Show Advanced Settings.  Click this option.

  3. You will see a button called Content Settings under the "Privacy" heading.  Click it.

  4. Under the "Cookies" heading, click the button beside "Allow Local Data to be Set" to enable all cookies, or click the button beside "Block All Sites from Setting Any Data" to disable all cookies.

  5. Click Done at the bottom of the screen.

We'll show you some more options that you can play around with in our How to Enable Cookies in Chrome tutorial.

Mozilla Firefox

  1. Click the menu icon in the top-right corner (it looks like three bars stacked on top of each other), and click the Options button.

  2. Once the "Options" menu appears, click the Privacy category in the left-hand column. 

  3. Under the "History" heading, click the drop-down menu beside "Firefox Will:" and click Use Custom Settings for History.  New options will appear below the drop-down menu.

  4. Click the check box beside "Accept Cookies from Sites" (if it isn't checked) to mark it and enable cookies in Firefox.  If this box is already checked, click it to unmark it and disable cookies.

We'll teach you about some more custom settings for cookies in Firefox in our How to Enable Cookies in Firefox tutorial.

Microsoft Internet Explorer

  1. Click the "Tools" icon in the top-right corner (it looks like a little gear), and then click Internet Options.

  2. When the "Internet Options" window opens, click on the Privacy tab along the top.

  3. You will notice a slider near the top of the window that will let you set a level of security for your cookies on Internet Explorer.  Click on a level for the slider to select how low or high you want your privacy regarding cookies to be (which will be explained to you in the area to the right of the slider).

    For quick reference: the bottom level enables all cookies, and the top level disables all cookies.

If you'd like to customize your settings for cookies in Internet Explorer, see our How to Enable Cookies in Internet Explorer tutorial.

 

And that concludes our lessons on cookies, caches, and browsing histories!


How to Delete Cookies

Why should I clear my cookies?

While cookies may sometimes be useful, they are generally bothersome for two reasons:

  1. They are files that take up memory space on your computer.  If you keep enough cookies (especially from websites that you don't use that often), they may slow your computer down.

  2. Some websites and other individuals can access your cookies, which can let them figure out where you've been on the Internet (whether this is their primary intention or not).

So, clearing out your cookies once in a while can speed up your computer and make you harder to track on the Internet.  You may have to re-enter some information by hand instead of automatically having it provided for you (such as a website remembering your user name or password so that you can quickly log in), but that's the balance that you have to strike between convenience and privacy.

(NOTE: Getting rid of your cookies won't delete important information from websites that you use, such as your profile or any address or billing information that you've entered, so you can rest easy.)

How do I clear cookies?

Below are some quick instructions for how to get rid of cookies in each of the major browsers.  Check out our "Extra Resources" section in this course for thorough instructions that include screenshots of the process.

Google Chrome

  1. Click the menu icon in the top-right corner (it looks like three horizontal bars), move your mouse cursor over More Tools, and click Clear Browsing Data.

  2. Make sure that the check box beside "Cookies and Other Site and Plugin Data" is marked.  If it isn't, click it to mark it.

  3. Click the drop-down menu beside "Obliterate the Following Items From:" and select to cookies from The Past Hour, The Past Day, The Past Week, The Last 4 Weeks, or The Beginning of Time (i.e. delete all cookies currently on your computer).

  4. Click Clear Browsing History.

We explain how to do this in more detail in our How to Clear Cookies on Chrome tutorial.

Mozilla Firefox

  1. Click the menu icon in the top-right corner (it looks like three bars stacked on top of each other), click the History button, and then click Clear Recent History when the "History" window appears.

  2. In the new window that pops up, if the check box beside "Cookies" isn't marked, mark it by clicking it.

  3. Click the drop-down menu beside "Time Range to Clear" and choose whether you want to clear your cookies from Last Hour, Last Two Hours, Last Four Hours, Today, or Everything (i.e. delete all cookies).

  4. Click Clear Now.

We'll go over the specifics in our How to Clear Cookies in Firefox tutorial.

Microsoft Internet Explorer

  1. Click the "Tools" icon in the top-right corner (it looks like a little gear) to open a drop-down menu.  Move your mouse cursor over Safety to open another branch of the drop-down menu, and then click Delete Browsing History.

  2. Ensure that the check box beside "Cookies and Website Data" is marked.  This may mean that you have to click it in order to mark it.

  3. Click Delete.

If you want to see more information about the process, head over to our How to Delete Cookies in Internet Explorer tutorial.

 

That's about it for how to clear cookies off of your computer!  Next, we'll look at how to enable cookies if you need them in order to make a website run, or disable them to keep your Internet activity from being tracked.


What are Cookies?

Cookies are desserts usually made of flour, eggs, sugar, and butter, and often have raisins or chocolate… oh, wait.  You want to know about Internet cookies.  Sorry, our mistake.

What are Internet cookies?

In computer terms, a "cookie" is a small computer file that a website sends through your web browser to your computer.  It serves as a sort of reminder of what you've done on that website.  This could include whether you're logged in or not, what hyperlinks you've clicked, or what items have been added to your online shopping cart (if you're using a shopping website).

Are cookies good or bad?

That depends on what they do.  Some examples of their jobs are listed below.

Authentication cookies

These cookies are very useful, and actually work to keep your privacy secure on the Internet.  For example, many websites that require you to log into an account will send you a cookie.  This helps to keep track of whether you're logged into the website or not, and which account you are logged into the website with. 

Without these kinds of cookies, people could log into any account for a website that they wanted, or even use a different account while its real owner was logged in.  This could allow them to trick the website into revealing sensitive information about another person.

Convenience cookies

Some cookies simply exist to make a website more useful or easier to use.  For example, some cookies may remember certain information that you've previously entered into the website.  This may include your user name or email address, and perhaps even your password.  This makes it easy to log back into your account if you log out and then come back to the website later.

Other cookies may remember preferences that you've selected or other information that you've entered.  This can help you avoid having to re-adjust your settings every time you visit a website, or re-type certain information that you use all the time (such as personal details or things that you've searched for).

While these types of cookies make it much easier to use a website, some of them can reveal information about what you do on the Internet, including potentially some personal information.

Tracking cookies

These are the types of cookies that most often get on people's nerves.  They contain information about how you use certain websites, including actions that you take and hyperlinks that you click.  That information is then accessed by advertisers in order to show you ads that they think are relevant to what you want.

This is a largely harmless practice, and some people find it useful for learning about products and services that interest them that they wouldn't have otherwise known about.  For many others, however, these cookies are irritating at best and disturbingly privacy-intrusive at worst. 

In fact, there are certain computer programs and web browser add-ons that are dedicated to identifying and blocking these types of cookies.  There are even some antivirus programs that classify tracking cookies as security threats, and delete them as if they were viruses (though, thankfully, cookies can never carry or become infected by actual viruses).

When should I enable, disable, or remove cookies?

While it may be tempting to disable cookies, the fact is that certain websites (especially ones that require you to log in to use them) won't work or be easy to use without them.  Therefore, you should probably keep cookies enabled, but clear them out (along with your cache and browser history) every once in a while to give yourself a clean slate.

Another option, which we hinted at, is that you may also be able to manage what kinds of cookies you get with certain programs or web browser settings/add-ons.  That way, you can keep the cookies that are necessary for websites to function while blocking cookies from advertisers who want to snoop on your web activities.

We'll go over how to clear, enable, and disable cookies in our next tutorials, and go into a bit more detail when we cover how to stay private while using specific web browsers.


How to Clear Cache + Internet Browsing History

Why should I clear my cache or Internet browsing history?

There are two major reasons why you should clear out your cache or Internet browsing history occasionally:

  1. Both of these things contain files which take up memory space on your computer, which can slow it (or your Internet connection) down.  In fact, some may be doing so unnecessarily.

    For instance, with your browsing history, you probably won’t need to remember every single website or web page that you’ve been to.  You probably have the ones that you visit most frequently saved as bookmarks, so you can get back to them easily.

    Also, whenever something about a web page changes, your cache has to make a new copy of the information.  This means that your cache ends up storing files regarding obsolete versions of the web page, which are irrelevant and don’t help to speed up the loading of websites.

  2. Both your cache and Internet browsing history contain clues as to where you’ve been on the Internet.  Websites, Internet providers, snooping programs, or even just people who use the same computer as you do can look at them to figure out what you’ve been up to on the Internet.

So, in a nutshell, clearing your cache or Internet history once in a while frees up memory space on your computer, which can help it to run faster.  It also makes your Internet activities harder to track.

How to delete your cache or browsing history

Here are some quick instructions on how to clear cache and browsing history in each of the main web browsers. Note that we’ve also created more detailed instructions (with screenshot images) in separate tutorials in the “Extra Resources” section.

If some pictures to go along with these instructions would be useful, have a look at this illustration-aided tutorial on how to clear your browsing history, put together by our brand ambassador, Abby Stokes.  (NOTE: you may need to have Adobe Reader installed to view it.)

Or, you can watch this video on YouTube by Abby on how to clear your Internet history.

Google Chrome

  1. Click the menu icon in the top-right corner (it looks like three bars stacked on top of each other), move your mouse cursor over More Tools, and click Clear Browsing Data.

  2. Make sure that the check boxes beside “Browsing History” and “Cached Images and Files” are marked.  If they aren’t, click them to mark them.

  3. Click the drop-down menu beside “Obliterate the Following Items From:” and select to delete files from The Past Hour, The Past Day, The Past Week, The Last 4 Weeks, or The Beginning of Time (i.e. delete all files of the chosen types on your computer at the moment).

  4. Click Clear Browsing History.

For a more detailed explanation, please visit our How to Clear Cache and Browsing History in Chrome tutorial.

Mozilla Firefox

  1. Click the menu icon in the top-right corner (it looks like three horizontal bars), click on the History button, and then click Clear Recent History.

  2. Make sure the check boxes beside “Browsing and Download History” and “Cache”” are marked.  If not, click them to mark them.

  3. Click the drop-down menu beside “Time Range to Clear” and select to clear files from Last Hour, Last Two Hours, Last Four Hours, Today, or Everything (i.e. delete all files of the chosen types).

  4. Click Clear Now.

For more detailed instructions, see our How to Clear Cache and Browsing History in Firefox tutorial.

Microsoft Internet Explorer

  1. Click the “Tools” icon in the top-right corner (it looks like a little cog or gear), move your mouse cursor over Safety, and click Delete Browsing History.

  2. Make sure the check boxes beside “Temporary Internet Files and Website Files” and “History” are both marked.  If not, click them to mark them.

  3. Click Delete.

To see the full procedure, check out our How to Clear Cache and Browsing History in Internet Explorer tutorial.

 

Well, that does it for our lessons on what a cache and Internet browsing history are, and how to get rid of them if you need to.  Next, we’ll look at cookies… the computer kind, not the baked goods kind.


What is a Cache and Internet Browsing History?

What is an Internet history?

An Internet browsing history is a record that your web browser keeps of individual web pages that you have visited.  Usually, it will be organized in reverse chronological order; that is, it will start with the last web page that you visited, and list the pages that you visited before that in order.  It may also sometimes separately keep track of web pages that you’ve visited in individual browser windows or tabs.

Nearly every type of web browsers will have some sort of History option in one of its menus that you can use to view your browsing history, like so:

What is a cache?

A cache (sometimes specified as a “web cache”) is a more specialized form of Internet browsing history.  Instead of keeping track of entire web pages, it keeps track of specific elements on web pages, such as pictures, style elements, or any interactive content.

Think about it in terms of remembering what you ate today.  Your Internet browsing history would be like remembering that you had toast for breakfast, soup for lunch, and steak for dinner.  Your cache would be like remembering whether the toast had butter or jam on it, whether the soup was tomato or chicken noodle, and whether the steak was medium rare or well done.

What do caches and Internet browsing histories do?

Both caches and browsing histories help with memory, though in slightly different ways.

What Internet history does

Your Internet browsing history helps with your memory.  Say that you’re aimlessly browsing the Internet one day, and you come across this really cool or useful website.  You spend so much time playing around on it that by the time you close your web browser, you can’t remember where that website actually was.  Thankfully, your web browser kept track of each page that you visited, so you can find that website again even if you visit a bunch of other websites in the meantime.

What a cache does

A cache helps with your web browser’s memory.  Your web browser can use its cache as a shortcut in order to speed up how fast it is able to load web pages for you.  Besides shortening the amount of time you have to sit at your computer impatiently tapping your fingers, this also cuts down on the amount of data that your computer needs to exchange over the Internet.  This may help you out with your monthly Internet bill.

Basically, it works like this: when your web browser loads a web page, it checks to see if it has parts of that web page already stored in its cache.  If it does, then it just goes ahead and loads those parts without bothering to ask for them from the Internet server that the web page is actually on.  Then it just asks for any new elements from the web server like it would normally, and adds those to its cache as well.

So, why are they important (in terms of privacy)?

Both your cache and your Internet browsing history can be used to track where you’ve been on the Internet.  Mostly, this is used by certain websites in order to show you advertisements tailored towards what you supposedly like.  Though relatively harmless, this is still a little creepy and privacy-invasive.

However, in rare cases, hackers may be able to use your cache or Internet browsing history to see where you go on the Internet frequently.  This may mean that they can stalk you or more easily find and break into your accounts.

Either way, you’re probably going to want to clear both of these things out every once in a while.  We’ll go over some more specifics in our next tutorial.