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01/18/2005 Archived Entry: "Google cookies"
Another New Year's resolution: time to clear your Google cookie.
To the consternation of privacy advocates, Google stores a persistent "cookie" on your PC that doesn't expire until 2038. Ostensibly this is so they can identify you and keep track of your user preferences. However, this also lets Google build a profile of you and keep a record of all your searches. Others have used cookies in this way, and Google has certainly expressed interest before in building profiles of their users.
Most civilized web browsers let you disable cookies entirely, but this prevents many useful web sites from working. Under Mozilla you can disable Google cookies specifically: Visit www.google.com and then click "Tools / Cookie Manager / Block Cookies from this Site". Then use "Tools / Cookie Manager / Managed Stored Cookies", scroll down to "google.com" (or "google.ca"), click "Remove Cookie". (I expect the procedure in Firefox is similar.)
Under Opera, click "File / Preferences / Privacy / Manage Cookies", scroll down and click on "google.com" (or "google.ca") to select that server, click "Edit", and then uncheck the boxes "Lend settings for normal cookies" and "Accept cookies for server/domain", then click "OK". Then you can click on the google PREF cookie (which should appear under google.com) to select it, and click "Delete".
If you're using Internet Explorer, get a new browser.
More information is available here, including instructions for how to block Google's cookie and still keep your Google preferences. You can also try Scroogle, an unauthorized cookie-less mirror of Google. Or try Metacrawler which feeds your search to several engines; although I don't know what identifying info (if any) they pass on to Google. (Metacrawler sets a cookie too, but now you know how to block that.)