I’m the very opposite of a techno wizard. In fact I’m just like most other scribblers out there in that at various steps along my Indie publishing way I have to take large chunks of time away from my writing to learn something computer, online, or software related. Lately it’s occurred to me that there’s a new bit of knowledge that needs to be added to the modern author’s toolbox. Whether traditionally published or Indie we all get to advertise our own work these days. We spend lots of time on the internet researching, promoting, and interacting with other people, including other authors on various platforms. We zoom off and buy things online. All sorts of things from foods to crockery, clothing and books. All this zooming leaves a trail on your computer which you can access by viewing your History in your browser, and really shouldn’t be anyone’s business but your own. That’s all good – but then there are the cookies.
So, a cookie will help a server know how many times you visit and your preferences and location. Harmless enough. Except when it’s not.
Most sites have good privacy policies in place, but it is possible for a site to track pages you read as well as what you buy and click on. This is easy to recognise when you’re looking at a particular product on a site new to you and an advert for the same or a similar product pops up there from an online company that you’ve previously bought something else from. This happens all the time, and it’s not logical to think of it as a happy coincidence. Probably if you want the product you’ll head over to the company that you already have an account with and buy it there – cookies job done! You’re being quietly tracked.
It is possible, even though questionably ethical, for cookies to be loaded on to your computer that can possibly see what you enter into search engines and follow you to multiple sites, all while you unknowingly zoom around doing your authorly business. All these bits of information lifted up to the web server at various times means that this particular server knows pretty much exactly where you’ve been online, and when too. Possibly as writers any site collecting our information could end up confused and think that we’re serial killers, perverts, and weird conspiracy theorists to boot considering the things we search for, and that doesn’t bother me at all. Still, our online movements should only be shared at our own discretion, so if this is important to you, then you might want to regularly toss your cookies.
When you join certain sites you agree to them using cookies – that’s part of their terms of service. You don’t agree to never cleaning up your computer though. That’s something that you should do, particularly before and after you enter any site that you believe is following you around rather than simply leaving a cookie to recognise you with next time. It’s a simple process for those of you who aren’t already doing it, and good for your computer’s health in general too to have a clear out now and then. Firstly download and install the free version of CCleaner. They also have paid versions, but for the purposes of general and cookie clearing the free software is great. They let you know when there are updates for you to download too.
Once your CCleaner is installed, firstly close everything on your computer, and open it. Before running it, carefully go through the list of things to be erased on the left and make sure that anything you don’t want to lose is not checked, like saved passwords and so on. Don’t select anything at all from the Advanced selection unless you know exactly what you’re doing, and if you don’t know what anything is anywhere else leave it unchecked. If you’ve never done this before definitely leave something unchecked rather than delete something important. The main thing is to get rid of those cookies. Click on Run Cleaner and they’ll all be gone. No more cookies, and any site you enter from there it will be with no history of your movements.
* Click on images to enlarge
You can also use this for registry cleaning, which is very helpful for getting rid of the bits and pieces left behind after uninstalling a programme for instance, but I won’t go into all that here except to say that don’t check anything there either if you don’t know exactly what it is.
Apart from the cookies, if you aren’t cleaning your system regularly quite a lot of space could be taken up on your hardrive by unnecessary things after a long period of time, so this is useful in more ways than one. Now you have it installed, always do a clean before you enter a site that you believe is following your personal moves around cyberspace, and also directly after leaving it – just in case you forget to clean before next time. Safe online travelling fellow scribblers.