Get rid of Internet debris

I surf the web a lot. My computer is full of cookies. Should I periodically delete all cookies and temporary Internet items? —WB

Answer: Cleaning out any extraneous data on your computer is always a good idea, just like cleaning out your closets of accumulated household clutter is a good idea.

Internet usage is a great way to fill your hard drive because you’re inviting an enormous amount of data onto your computer from elsewhere.

For example, Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer both have something called an image cache. That’s a repository for downloaded images and bits of programming, such as shockwave files, so that next time you visit a site you don’t have to download those files again.

Cookies aren’t such space suckers. They are tiny text files, or entries in a text file, that are stored on your hard drive to help Web sites track your movements through a site. They also record sign-in data and any other site log-on information. Web shopping baskets use cookies to keep track of what you select to buy before going to an electronic checkout.

While it may seem objectionable to have your Web movements tracked on your own computer, it’s not as insidious as you may think. The web programmers that encode their Web pages to put cookies on your computer are the only entities that know that cookies are there.

If you visit, let’s say, and it gives you a cookie, then won’t know about that cookie if you are using the latest Internet browser software such as Internet Explorer 5.5 or Netscape Navigator 4.75.

There have been circumstances where earlier browser versions have had security vulnerabilities. For example, Microsoft had to issue a security patch when it was discovered that IE 5.0 and earlier browsers would allow malicious web site operators to gain access to cookies generated by another site and read, add or change them.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to update a browser when a new version comes out as the updates include new security fixes.

If you delete cookies from your computer some sites that you visit regularly won’t know who you are. If you have provided a specific site with preferences, the deletion of your cookies will destroy this information. Shopping sites use cookies a lot, so if delete your cookies you will have to enter information you have provided previously again. Advertisers always use cookies to keep track of the kind of ads you respond to so that they can provide more targeted material to you. If previously provided, use the user ID and password you were given by the Web site to identify yourself again. A new cookie entry will be created.

If you decide to delete both cookies and cache information, here’s how:

If you simply want a cookie cleaner, see: Mac Cleaners or PC Cleaners. Many of the programs are free.

This cleaning can also be done manually. In Netscape, search for a file called cookies.txt on a PC or magiccookie on the Mac and delete it. It will be recreated and continue to collect cookies, but old cookie info will be wiped away.

In Internet Explorer for Windows, Cookies are kept in the “Cookies” folder. Locate it with the Find function on your Start menu. Each cookie is saved as a single file.

To delete temporary Internet files go to the Tools menu in Internet Explorer and select Internet Options. Click the “Delete Files” button. In Netscape, use the Edit menu to access Preferences. Click the plus sign to expand the “Advanced” entry in the left windows and select “Cache”. On the right, click “Clear Memory Cache” to remove any files from memory for the current Web session and click “Clear Disk Cache” to empty the temporary Internet files from the hard drive.

For an easy way to clear all this data, I’ll give you a choice of products you can use.

You can try a free program called Karen’s Cookie Viewer to remove your cookies with one click or to make you feel secure about cleaning out all the data collected, be sure to try CleanIT.