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How to Block All Cookies Except for Sites You Use

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Cookies can be useful when you’re in control of them. Today we’re taking a look at how you can control cookies by blocking them except for when you want them to enhance your user experience.

Why Would I Want to Do This?

A cookie is simply a small file that a web site places on your computer to store information. The process itself is totally benign and can even be helpful when cookies do useful things like store your shopping cart information between sessions, save you from the hassle of logging into a site every time you open and close your browser, and other helpful time savers. The ones that give cookies a bad name track users without their explicit knowledge and help advertisers (among others) build profiles of users. Many people want to limit the amount of information that is gathered about them and do so by limited the kind of cookies that their browser accepts and/or retains.

Today we’re going to look at some quick ways to do this is Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome using white lists. It’s much easier to specify which sites you want to accept cookies from than it is to perpetually accept/decline the hundreds of cookies your browser is bombarded with. For each browser we’re going to show you how to handle the task with built-in tools and then with extensions that enhance the experience—if any are available for the browser.

A few quick notes before we continue. First, There are a few downsides to aggressively weeding out all but the essential cookies from your browser. You’ll stop getting custom tailored ads (without cookies to tell the ad server what kind of ads would be best suited for you, you’ll get generic ones) and you’ll start experiencing more intersitial ads more frequently (like pop-over ads and video lead-in ads) as these are frequency controlled by cookies.

Second, this is a rather aggressive approach to controlling cookies. We recommend it if you’re really serious about keeping your privacy on lock down and controlling what third-parties can track about your online behavior and/or as a really great exercise in seeing just how many times web sites attempt to load your computer down with cookies.

Controlling Cookies in Internet Explorer2011-05-17_153304

Internet Explorer has simple but serviceable cookie controls. There are two main areas we’re interested in: managing site status and toggling the cookie acceptance. First let’s look at how to whitelist a site. Click on Tools –> Internet Options –> Privacy –> Sites. Here you’ll find the Per Site Privacy Actions menu which allows you to white or black list web sites.

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Manually entering every site you’d like to whitelist is a bit on the kludgy side so we’re going to semi-automate the process by toggling the cookie settings. Visit Tools –> Internet Options –> Privacy and under Settings click Advanced.

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Here you’ll find a simple radio-button based menu where you can toggle the settings for first-party and third-party cookies. We’re going to temporarily turn on first-party cookie prompting and block third-party cookies. Rather than try to remember every site you might want to add to your white list, this allows you to accept the cookies on a need-to-use basis as they appear. After a few days of browsing you’ll have likely come across nearly every site you regularly use and will be able to add them to the white list on an as-needed basis. At that point you can toggle it to Block or leave it on Prompt if you don’t find it to be a nuisance.

Unfortunately in the realm of extensions, IE is a light weight and there aren’t any widely adopted cookie management extensions. If you’re a diehard IE user and unwilling to switch to Firefox or Chrome one available option is No More Cookies which allows you to bulk authorize/delete cookies in your IE cache. Compared to the native functionality it’s not a radical improvement, however.

Controlling Cookies in Firefox

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If you’re a Firefox user you’ll find robust built-in controls as well as pile of extensions for managing your cookies. First let’s look at the built-in methods. Open up Firefox and click on Tools –> Options –> Privacy. Once in the Privacy menu make sure the Firefox will… option is set to “use custom settings for history”. Uncheck Accept third-party cookies and toggle Keep until… to “ask me every time” .2011-05-17_145102

The ask-me-every-time setting is like the Prompt setting in IE. From now on every time a first-party cookie attempts to lodge itself in your browser cache you’ll be prompted to allow or block it. Again, you should only have to use the prompt method for a week or so until you’ve visited all your regular sites and got them into your white list. If at any time you want to check the list or manually add entries to it, just click the Exceptions button. 2011-05-17_144956

If you want to really dig in and get your hands dirty you can examine cookies on a cookie-by-cookie basis by click on the Show Cookies button found on the Privacy tab. There you can get detailed information about cookies and manually delete them. If you want to delve in even deeper, grab a copy of Cookies Manager+. It’s a super-charged version of the native Firefox cookie manager that includes cookie editing, import/export, and more. Firefox’s native tools are more than enough for most people but if you find yourself venturing down the path of cookie-hunting-ninja it’s good to have the proper tools.

Controlling Cookies in Google Chrome2011-05-17_153036

If you’re looking to wrangle cookies in Google Chrome you have the option to do so, although Chrome’s menu settings are the least intuitively worded among the three browsers we’re looking at and awkward to use at best. In order to access your cookie settings under Chrome click on the wrench icon and then navigate to Options –> Under the Hood –> Content Settings. Here you have the rather limited ability to “Allow locate data to be set” (allow all cookies), “Block sites from setting any data” (block all cookies), and “Ignore exceptions and block third-party cookies from being set” which allows first-party cookies to be set, blocks all third-party cookies, but unlike IE and Firefox there is no prompt system. You’re stuck manually managing your white list which is completely unacceptable and far too much effort. 2011-05-17_152157

Unfortunately due to this gross oversight we need to turn to an add-on to fix things. Fortunately the add-on does a wonderful job fixing things and after installing it life is good again. Leave everything as it is, but check “Ignore exceptions and block third-party cookies from being set”. Now visit the extension gallery page for Vanilla Cookie Manager and install it.

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Vanilla Cookie Manager fills in the massive gap in Chrome’s cookie management toolbox by allowing for easy whitelist management. Every web site you visit that has first-party cookies will have a small white cookie icon in the address bar. Click that icon to block or allow cookies from that site. In addition to managing a white list for you Vanilla Cookie Manager will also clear unwanted cookies at startup and protect your whitelisted cookies from deletion.

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Although it would be nice if Chrome had the same functionality that Firefox and IE do, Vanilla Cookie Manager picks up the slack quite nicely. None the less, a simple prompt mechanism to facilitate whitelist creation isn’t an unreasonable request to make of future Chrome releases!


Have a question about cookies or computer privacy? Sound off in the comments; between your helpful fellow readers and the HTG staff you’re bound to find the answer you’re looking for.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/17/11

Comments (26)

  1. HellScream

    Nice article… now i dont have to worry about the cookies :D

  2. Gloorian

    And what about for Opera?

  3. Stefan

    Can’t you click on the built in cookie icon to create a whitelist in chrome? If you block all sites, there is an icon in the adress bar like the left one in your last picture.

  4. Narrative

    Thanks for great tip

  5. rodders

    *****Great article and very helful for a total novice like me.*****

  6. rodders

    sorry that should have read HELPFUL

  7. Paolo

    What can you say about privacy policy of the extension of Chrome?
    Paolo

  8. zarnaik

    No Opera, great I learned a lot, sadly nothing of use.

  9. Mike K

    If you use CCleaner as almost everyone I know does, you can use the utility in it to control cookies.

    Just open “Options” “Cookies” and you can move the ones you want to the right side.

    Every time you run CCleaner the others will be removed.

    Just make sure you do this before you run CCleaner or they will all be removed before you check them.

  10. Vin

    Thanks! You knew what I wanted before I did! lol

  11. Steve

    What’s with the cookie in the middle – he’s looking at me!

  12. GerryG

    Hey I’ve been at this thing called hacking (coding, programming, etc.) as a full time profession since 1963 and I find that the longer you’re at it, the more of a novice you become. Another great article from ‘kids’ well worth listening to. Please don’t quit!

  13. Paula Morgan

    have done this in FF. great info.

  14. Greg K.

    Just a great site for all of us non techies. Thanks,

  15. jimrich

    You tell us how to block cookies in Internet Explorer. (A browser that no one in their right mind uses) , but not how to block them in Opera. (Settings > Preferences > Advanced > Cookies).

  16. 1101doc

    Opera simplifies the process. I accept all cookies, and tell Opera to delete all cookies at exit except for the ones I have instructed it to keep using “Site Preferences.”

  17. fourty711

    SOme very interesting stuff glad you tec’s are arround.
    Have a problem can you help?
    I keep getting the following message at the top of my Bar: Internet explorer is currently running with add-ond disabled etc. Have opened trhe info link and have not found any way to say OK ENABLE them. I do not see any where how to get this to activate OK ADDS NOW ACTIVE>
    Any sugestions please!!!

  18. geppetto

    @ fourty711:
    Go to this address:
    http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-vista/Internet-Explorer-add-ons-frequently-asked-questions
    (make sure the link is not broken in two lines otherwise it doesn’t work)

    If you do not find the answer there, you may try at:
    http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/ie

    Select which version you use:
    Internet Explorer 7/8/9

    Select the “Ask a question” in the blu bar and post your question.
    (you must “Sign in” to post questions)

    Surely someone responds to you.

    Ciao

  19. Simon Savage

    I must admit that i don’t really worry about Cookies as much as i should, as I use CCleaner almost daily. I’m using Bitdefender 2011 which i won and was surprised at how good it is once they updated the load of bugs at the beginning of the year. It has great privacy controls which are handy as I have IE and Firefox. It covers both Cookies, the Registry and scripting. Its handy as sometimes i do use IE even though Firefox is the default browser and it saves me tweaking the controls in both Firefox and Internet options. Its a great article as we CCleaner users get to comfortable hitting that Run Cleaner button. Mike K had the right idea as CCleaner is the first tool I recommend any new it user install?

  20. RicardoBathUK

    Thanks for the great info!

    One point I have noticed, is I have FF (Using the Aurora platform, and when i have set the settings, the igoogle page I use as my home page has a setting that allows me to quickly see my hotmail account, but now I can’t login to this anymore, just wondered if it was a issue with the cookie settings, I have accepted the cookies form google.

  21. Piers Scott

    A timely article considering that in Europe the storing of cookies on users’ machines without their express permission will become illegal next week.

  22. Adam

    I found Opera was very easy to block cookies on. First off I deleted all the existing cookies (probably 1000, maybe 50 we’re some ad or tracking cookie). Then just set Opera to require a allow/disallow for every cookie. Thanks HTG for having me change this.

  23. Adam

    sorry, that last comment should read 50 out of 1000 were NOT ad/tracking cookies. There were a lot.

  24. Joo

    -1 You forgot about Opera.

  25. bob pazol

    great information. Thanks.

  26. Sol

    OPERA

    1. Tools/Preferences/Cookies and set it to Never accept cookies.
    2. Now go to Content Tab on same dialog box and click on Manage Site Preferences, and you can add a list of the site/s you want with custom settings, so you can enable Accept Cookies or Accept Cookies for the site i visit (i guess these are 3rd and 1st party cookies, i suggest only site i visit).

    Step 2. can also be done by browsing the site you use, such as your mail client for example, and then choose Tools/Quick Preferences/Edit Site Preferences. There it pops up the custom dialog box for that site. You have to do it again for every other site want to set it up. Now, if you want to edit any setting you have done go to Tools/Preferences/Content (as on explained before on step 2), and click on Manage Site Preferences, and there you can edit or delete or add any other stuff.

    Always protect your info as you can, salute!

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