July 24

Using a Customized Privacy Import File to Manage Cookies in Internet Explorer

A number of settings for controlling cookies are provided in Internet Explorer. These settings are accessed through the Internet Explorer menu entry Tools-Internet Options-Privacy. The standard settings are well-known but the advanced capability for importing customized settings seems to have remained more or less in obscurity. Probably this is because most discussion of the subject has focused on specialized technical aspects with complex rules. If, instead, we keep the rules simple, customized settings will be relevant to more systems. I believe there is much to be said for a version of a privacy preferences file aimed at the average PC user and I will discuss how to go about this.

 

Advantages of a Customized Privacy Import File

 

Although it is not for everyone, I believe that many PC users would find the kind of cookie control available from a simple version of a custom file to be very useful. The specific advantage emphasized in this article comes from the ability to force cookies to be what are called "session" cookies. That is, a cookie is accepted for whatever length of time that the browser is open but is deleted as soon as the browser is closed. The cookie never gets stored on the hard drive. This procedure overcomes two problems encountered when using standard IE cookie controls. First, simply blocking cookies is impracticable because so many sites insist that cookies be allowed or they refuse to function properly. Instead of blocking cookies, you can accept the cookie temporarily. This satisfies the Web site and the cookie is then discarded when you are finished browsing. A number of commercial cookie blockers work this way. The second advantage is an improvement over the procedure of blocking third-party cookies while allowing first-party cookies. Many first-party cookies are now used for advertising and tracking purposes. Forcing all cookies into session cookies keeps these off your machine.

 

In addition to the ability to force all cookies into temporary session cookies, custom files allow for controls tailored for several types of security zone and for individual Web sites. However, average PC users tend to make little use of configuring different zones and sites and to keep the complexity down, I will concentrate on the settings for the Internet Zone. This zone is by far the most important for average PC users and will be sufficient for many. More details on the structure and creation of a privacy file are given here. Experienced computer users can consult the original Microsoft paper on customized settings or make use of the large assortment of customized privacy files put together by Eric Howes. This same author also has a very extensive discussion of using privacy files.

 

Example of a Customized Privacy Import File

 

As already mentioned, the file given here applies to the Internet zone. The Internet zone covers all Web sites except those sites that you have specifically added to other zones. The file will preserve any old cookies but will force new first-party cookies to be session only. It blocks third-party cookies. The contents of the file can be viewed here where more details on how to create a privacy file are given. A copy of the file in zipped format can be downloaded here. After unzipping, the file can be read in Notepad. Also, assuming that IE is your associated application for XML files, double-clicking will open it in IE for reading. The actual installation of the file is discussed in the next section.

 

Using a Customized Privacy Import File

 

Importing a customized privacy file is a simple process. First, make sure that you already have whatever cookies that you wish to keep for such purposes as logins, passwords, etc. The custom settings that we are going to use will preserve these old cookies but will not allow new cookies to be saved. If you wish to check your cookies, they are kept in a folder called "cookies".They are in the folder \Documents and Settings\{Username}\cookies\ In Windows XP, and in older systems they are in \Windows\cookies\. It may be simpler to use one of the free cookie viewers, such as the one from Karen Kenworthy.

 

Just to be on the safe side, you may want back up your Registry or do a system restore point before importing any new settings. If you are familiar with Regedit, you can just back up the Registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings

 

To import the file, open the Internet Explorer menu Tools-Internet Options-Privacy. The figure below shows the dialog box. Click the button "Import". The usual type of dialog box for choosing a file will appear as shown below. Select the XML file that you wish to use and click "open". A message box (below) will appear indicating a successful importation. Click "OK". If you do not like the settings, you can return to the default configuration. Open the Internet Explorer menu Tools-Internet Options-Privacy again (Figure below). It will appear somewhat different and the "Default" button is no longer grayed out. Click this button and then click "OK". The settings will revert to those of the first figure above.