Why are they called cookies? More than a delicious holiday treat

Cookies are one of the most popular treats during the holiday season and chances are when you say cookie this is what people think of most. But there are other cookies, particularly on your computer. So as you sit back during this holiday season we will explain where this term comes from.

First, what exactly is a cookie? It is a small text file that is placed on your computer when you visit a website on the Internet. This file stores information like any preferences that you selected for the website so that the next time you come back the page will load faster. They can store other information like form information, shopping cart contents and credit card information. It should also be noted that not all websites use cookies. The cookie is encrypted and can only be read by the web domain that it is associated with.

There are numerous different explanation about how the term came about. For computer nerds the most common is they are derived from magic cookies which are a component of the UNIX operating system that referred to a token that passed data between computers. For others they have been told that it has a more practical application and is derived from fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel who used cookie crumbs to mark their path through the forest in some versions. Other theories include a programmer who left his company but devised a program to popup a window on people’s screens saying “Give me a cookie” and it would stay there until they typed in the word cookie. It was so well hidden in the system that only a complete rewrite would remove the code so the company simply told its employees to give it a cookie. Another theory holds that it came from the Fortune System that was a part of UNIX. When the system would startup some sort of joke or quote would be displayed for the user and this was stored in a file named cookie. At the very least the developer of the system had a sense of humor.

For the most part cookies are harmless and are a part of modern computing. It is possible to block them but the functionality of websites may be impaired. Many people though are wary of cookies and there is something behind that. Cookies can be used as spyware but most antivirus or anti-spyware programs can eliminate them easily, though Zombie cookies are more difficult to deal with (they are “deleted” but keep reappearing). The most prominent issue are tracking cookies that store information about browsing habits that are passed on to someone else and are viewed as an invasion of privacy. The cookie itself is not a program but is a text file and is incapable of doing anything malicious so it is usually used in conjunction with something else. It should not collect any information from you and the files themselves are encrypted so it is near impossible to enter information into them.

Like a real cookie, computer cookies come in many different shapes and sizes. For a full description of what cookies are capable of check out cookiecontroller.com. Cookies indeed are simple and yet complex components and like what is better, chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, no consensus can be reached on them.

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