Utilities clean cookie crumbs from your hard drive

Some Internet cookie-management programs nab cookies (small text files that store information about you and your Web browsing patterns) as soon as a Web site tries to place them on your hard drive. The cost of that total-control approach, however, is a seemingly endless stream of pop-up alert windows. If you prefer to sort through cookies without having your Web wanderings constantly interrupted, post-browsing cookie-management utilities are just the ticket.

Some cookies expire after a single browsing session. Others are set to persist on your hard drive–often for years or even decades. Many of these persistent cookies are a cause of concern for Web surfers worried about privacy: Each time you return to the Web site that served the cookie, it uses the file to add information to your user profile. But cleanup programs such as the three evaluated here can zap even persistent cookies and thwart companies’ efforts to track you on the Net.

Cookies Manager 1.1: Small, Simple, and Effective

Unlike the Netscape 6 browser, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5.5 doesn’t allow you to easily view information about stored cookies and delete them. But Pierre-Marie Devigne’s Cookies Manager 1.1 freeware delivers some of this functionality to Internet Explorer in a compact 19KB download.

Cookies Manager lists cookies alphabetically in three side-by-side columns: New cookies appear in the center window, those you’ve chosen to accept appear on the left, and rejected cookies appear on the right. Clicking on arrow buttons slides a cookie from one list to another. Distinguishing the good cookies from the bad can be tricky, however. The only information Cookies Manager provides is the URL of the server that placed the cookie on your hard drive. Double-clicking the cookie entry opens it in your default text editor, but its gobbledygook contents are nearly indecipherable. While the documentation is rather sparse, Devigne’s Web site provides more information (in French and English).

Window Washer 3.5: A Total System Scrub

Cookies are only one method that outsiders can use to track your activities. Hackers and snoops who try to break into your PC can learn a lot about you by using other methods, like pulling up a list of files you have recently opened. Webroot.com’s $30 (shareware) Window Washer 3.5 includes cookie management as part of a PC security suite that hides other personal information. Window Washer lets you choose which cookies to keep in all versions of Netscape, Internet Explorer, America Online, MSN Explorer, and CompuServe. Plug-ins provide support for Opera and the NeoPlanet browser extension.

To access cookie files, you select your browser from Window Washer’s Standard Wash Items list and click the Keep button. All the browser’s cookies appear in the left window, and those you’ve already elected to keep appear on the right. You select cookies to add to your Cookie Keeper Bin individually, or you can select the Add All to Keepers button. If you later choose to dump cookies you have previously selected, you can select them individually in the Keeper Bin or make it a clean sweep with the Remove All from Keepers button. As with Cookies Manager, selecting a cookie in Window Washer and hitting the View button displays only the cookie’s garbled contents.

Window Washer does much more than manage cookies, however. When you choose the Wash Now button, the program clears your Registry streams, Windows Run history, Windows Find history, CHK Scan Disk log, lists of recently opened application files, the Windows Temporary Files directory, and the Recycle Bin. You can set Window Washer to run at set intervals and at start-up and shutdown.

SurfSecret 3.5: Stealth Browsing and Some Cookie Management

Like Window Washer, Advercast’s $40 SurfSecret Deluxe 3.5 shareware utility combines cookie management with a truckload of other useful features. It will empty the Windows Recycle Bin, clear your Run and Find menus, empty your list of recent documents and temp files, and clear out your AOL cache and location bar. The program also empties IE and Netscape cache and history files, clears the Netscape and IE location bars of URLs you’ve entered in the past, and even erases all trace of your AOL Instant Messaging, ICQ, and Microsoft Chat activities. SurfSecret can run automatically at preset intervals or at start-up and shutdown.

SurfSecret’s cookie-management features are more bare-bones than Window Washer’s. The program is designed simply to delete cookies, not to help you figure out which ones to keep and which to toss. You can clear all cookies out of IE, Netscape, and AOL, and you can choose to accept all cookies from domains whose names contain strings of text you enter manually beforehand. Advercast says that in April it will release version 3.6 of SurfSecret, which will include an improved file shredder and cookie-cleaning for the Opera browser.

The free Cookies Manager 1.1 is perfect for basic cookie-cleaning with Internet Explorer. But if you want to make cookie management part of a complete privacy-protection scheme, Window Washer 3.5 is a great choice. It combines solid cookie management with a load of other privacy features, and it supports a wide range of browsers.