Cookies, Browsers, and Keeping Them Separate

The following article is an excerpt from my recent nonfiction release How Do Private Eyes Do That?

Tips for Keeping the Cookie Monster Out of Your Browser

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins

Not all cookies are bad, be they edible or data dropped into your browser (Image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

Not all cookies are bad, be they edible or data dropped into your browser (Image copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

What's a Cookie?

Cookies are small amounts of data that websites drop into your browser so they can monitor your internet browsing activity. As they are text, they cannot install anything on your computer. And they are not necessarily evil little creatures as some clue in your browser about preferences you have established for certain sites (such as reading newest comments first or ensuring secure logins).

And then there are the cookies that surreptitiously monitor your internet comings and goings, then feed that data to advertisers and others. If you don’t want your personal internet browsing to be stored in their databases, below are three tips for taking a byte out of those cookies.

Tip #1: Cookie Notices on Websites

Many websites have a symbol, icon or notice that by your visiting the site, you agree to its cookie-gathering policy. Such notices say something like “We use cookies to improve your experience. By your continued use, you accept such use. To change your settings, please see our policy.”

If you don’t want to agree to a site’s cookie-gathering, simply leave the site.

Tip # 2: Do Not Track Options

Do Not Track options block approximately 70% of web-tracking sites (image is in public domain)

Do Not Track options block approximately 70% of web-tracking sites (image is in public domain)

Fortunately, browsers offer Do Not Track options so users can opt-out of advertising services and other analytics on websites. Unfortunately, the Do Not Track option is similar to the Do Not Call registry—selecting the option doesn’t necessary mean that the website is going to respect your request.

Nevertheless, based on a recent report from the Information Commissioner’s Office, Do Not Track options block approximately 70% of third-party web tracking, so view it as a basic protective step. Here is a list of advertisers who claim to honor Do Not Track requests: Do Not Track: Implementations

Below are the steps for how to do this for Chrome & Safari (the Do Not Track option is on by default for Mozilla):

Chrome: Preferences/Settings->Advanced Settings–>(Select appropriate boxes)

Safari: Preferences–>Privacy–>(Select appropriate boxes)

For other browsers, check what security or privacy options are available under Preferences.

Tip #3: Add-Ons/Extensions

A second line of defense are add-ons and extensions that you download to your browser. These are not 100% remedies, but another, tougher layer of cookie-protection on top of Do Not Track settings.

The below services are free, with most offering more additional, comprehensive services for a monthly fee:

• Ghostery

• Disconnect

• AdBlock Plus

• Privacy Badger

Please do not copy/distribute any articles without written permission from Colleen Collins. Do not copy/distribute or otherwise use any mages noted as copyrighted or licensed.


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"A must-have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff." 
~Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author
"If you're looking for the lowdown on private investigations, this is it."
~Bill Crider, author of the Truman Smith mystery series

No Need to Give Out Your Home Address — Mask It Instead

Today I went to get new glasses, and the receptionist asked me to first fill out a form that requested personal information such as my home phone number, cell phone number, email address, and home address. I have a general phone number I give out to businesses, but I reserve my personal cell phone number for family, trusted contacts, and friends. Same with email addresses (I use an alternate email address for business & reserve my personal one for family & others). And only in rare instances do I give out my home address; instead, I give out our business POB address or my husband's law office address.

Protect Your Home Address

Your home is your castle — protect it by using an alternate address (image is licensed by Colleen Collins)

Your home is your castle — protect it by using an alternate address (image is licensed by Colleen Collins)

Your home is the center of your family life. Outside of a government agency or a trusted business, you don't need to give your private home address to someone just because they ask for it. You don't need to give it to stores or other businesses, either, especially if they have no reason for your home address (such as they are not delivering something to your home). But even if you need an item to be delivered, you can offer a masked address, meaning an address that isn't your real address but is associated to it. For example, let's say a masked address is1234 Maple Drive. Anything mailed to 1234 Maple Drive is actually delivered to your real home address. 

Purchasing A Street Address

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and some private mailbox companies let you use their street address, and your mailbox number is the suite number.

Post Offices

You can purchase a mailbox at a USPS for an annual fee. Inquire if it also uses the street addressing service — if yes, they will ask you to fill out a street addressing form.

Vintage USPS post office boxes — today boxes open with keys (image is in the public domain)

Vintage USPS post office boxes — today boxes open with keys (image is in the public domain)

Advantages of using this street-addressing option is that USPS post office boxes are typically less expensive than private mailbox services. Post offices also tend to be more permanent than private mail box services, which might move locations or go out of business, and post offices will also receive packages delivered by private carriers such as UPS and FedEx. Additionally, some post offices offer a “text to cell phone” message at no extra charge when a private-carrier shipment is received. However, not all post offices participate in the street-addressing program.

Disadvantages of using your post office box street-addressing service is that items must qualify for mail delivery (no shipments of alcohol, items over 70 pounds and other restrictions). 

Private Mailbox Services

Most private mailbox services offer a street address and secure, 24-hour access to delivered mail and packages. They often have additional fee-based services such as mail forwarding and alerts, usually by text or email, when a package has arrived.

Examples of private mailbox services:

The UPS Store - Personal Mailboxes



Virtual Mailbox Services

A virtual mailbox service sells you a street address. Incoming envelopes sent to this address are scanned into an electronic format, such as pdf, by the virtual mailbox service, which then sends the images to you via email or another electronic venue for your review. You then decide which envelopes are to be opened, and the service scans those contents and sends them.

With a virtual mailbox service, you can be anywhere in the world and still receive your mail. A big problem, however, would be if the service goes out of business suddenly, like overnight (which happened to one such service while I was researching this article). Also virtual mailbox services can get pricey — some cost $60 or more a month.

Examples of virtual mailbox services:


Earth Class Mail

Box 4 me

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins) requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy or distribute any images noted as licensed; any images noted as being in the public domain are yours to use.