They’re After my Cookies!

The internet would not reasonably function without cookies.

Cookies, small pieces of data inserted by a website onto a user’s hard drive (“Cookie FAQ”), allow websites to recognize you as a separate user from other users. Imagine if you were browsing Facebook, and every time you clicked on a link you had to enter your name and password again? It would be awful. It’s darn good that these first-party cookies exist.

However, third-party “tracking” cookies are a little more devious. The same sections of code are put on your computer by advertising companies to track your search history so the companies can target your desires. I installed Firefox and ran the add-on Lightbeam, which visualises this tracking network.

Lightbeam screencap

Wow. Check out that spider-web of Big Data. Circles are visited sites, and triangles are connected sites. Interestingly, the only site I “visited” was Google, my preferred search engine.

Look at all those websites! I visited 13 sites altogether, including Gmail, Popsugar (that big one), and the Toronto Zoo. That’s 13 sites visited voluntarily – so what’s with the other 218? Social media widgets and advertising sites tracked my progress through the web. Now, when I use Firefox, I’ll probably get ads for aquariums and recipes and Halloween stores.

It is a little unnerving having my personal data tracked by ad companies like this. The fact that someone out there can see what you’re surfing is definitely eerie, and it could be argued that these ad websites violate the privacy I’m entitled to by doing so – but, after all, they don’t track my name, my age, or where I live. So, I really have no problem with cookies, but if they creep you out, you can clear them by following the handy instructions here: I like having Google remember my most recent sites, so I’m not in the habit of clearing mine.

Now, I have heard frightening tales of users clicking on what appeared to be an ad, only to find they had accidentally downloaded malware instead and their whole system was knackered. This doesn’t really have anything to do with cookies, and the risk can be successfully minimized.

  1. Use either Chrome or Firefox to browse.
  2. Use antivirus software. ALWAYS.
  3. Just don’t click on ads – seriously. If you want a product, search for it.

To end on a happy note, I think we can all agree these cookies are fantastic:




“Cookie FAQ”. About Pinsent Masons LLP, n.d. Web. 25 September 2014.

“How to Delete Cookies”. About Pinsent Masons LLP, n.d. Web. 25 September 2014.

First image is a screencap of Lightbeam on Firefox; the cookies are mine (they were quite tasty).


How to Speak Google

Who ever looks on the second page of Google Search? Most often, the answers you’re looking for can be found on the first one, or even in the top three hits. Google’s page-crawling spiders are highly efficient at finding pages within their index that match your keywords. But here’s the problem: sometimes commands get lost in translation, as Google’s first language is Google-speak, not colloquial English. You can help Google find what you want faster by using the best and most appropriate Google syntax. Here are some examples:

  1. How would you search for an exact word or phrase?
    • We’ve probably all had this one: you’re looking for, say, the song you just heard on the radio, but you can only remember one line. If you type in that line, Google will find a whole bunch of pages about those words, but not the song you’re looking for. To tell Google “look for this specific phrase”, enclose the exact word or phrase in double quotes. Example: “tell the tale of Passchendaele” will get you to the Iron Maiden song faster than typing it without quotes, which first brings up a Wikipedia page on the famous battle (Russel).
  2. How would you search for something on a specific site?
    • If you’re looking for information about pandas, but only want information from National Geographic’s website, add an Operator – the “site” operator – MAKE SURE there is no space between “site” and the colon. So, your panda search would look like: pandas (Russel).
  3. How would you correctly search for a definition?
    • Easier than telling Google to find you a dictionary. First, put the word “Define”, followed by a space, then your search word. If using a phrase, the entire phrase will be defined. For example, “Define Raining cats and dogs” would define that expression, not provide separate definitions for “raining”, “cat”, and “dog” (Search Features: Improve Your Search Experience).
  4. How would you search for a specific product available within a specific price range?
    • State the product, then a space, then a dollar sign with the lower price, followed by two dots, then a dollar sign and the highest price. For example, if looking for a new 17-inch computer monitor between $40 and 100$, type in the query ‘17-inch monitor $40..$100′ (Alford).
  5. How would you search for a specific filetype?
    • This would come in handy if, for example, you need a pdf of something for downloading. Once again, it makes use of an operator. The operator is filetype:type. For example, “pandas filetype:pdf” (Russell).
  6. How would you include or ignore words in your search?
    • Let’s say you’re looking for information on the mythology of the Greek goddess “Nike”, but nothing about the athletic company. You can tell Google to ignore selected words by placing a -, with no space, in front of the term or terms you don’t want. So, your search for Nike might look like “Greek Nike –sports” (Russell).
    • You can include other related search terms by having the term OR (always in capitols) between the terms. For example, if you wanted to also get information about the Roman equivalent of Nike, but chiefly wanted information about the Greeks, your search might look like “Greek Nike OR Roman” (Russell; Search Features: Improve Your Search Experience).
  7. How would you find related pages?
    • If you’ve found a site on something fascinating, and want other sites like it so you have more information, there is another handy operator you can use. Type in “related:”, followed by the site name. For example, “” for more sites about pandas (Search Features: Improve Your Search Experience).
  8. How would you find pages containing one of several words you are interested in, though not all of them?
    • If you are trying to get information on a subject, with a bunch of related words but one really important one, you can have your search terms as normal but also use the Operator intext:, which searches ONLY websites that ALSO have that SPECIFIC WORD on them somewhere. For example, if looking for information on plate tectonics, and specifically how it relates to the Andes mountain range, you might search “plate tectonics intext:Andes” (Russell).
  9. How would you find the time in another country?
    • Google itself has many handy quick-search functions, including calculations, definitions, and conversions. One of these is timezones. Just type “time (space) place-name” (not in quotes) and the answer will appear at the top of the page, like, “time Brussels” to get the current time in Brussels, Belgium (Russell).
  10. How would you find out how many Egyptian pounds you get for $20 Canadian dollars?
    • This is a simple one. Google has an automatic conversion/calculation machine. Type in (number – units in units), like, ’20 Canadian dollars in Egyptian pounds’. This function can also be used for converting between measurements, making it particularly useful for adjusting recipes or finding how many centimeters something measured in inches is (Russell, Search Features: Improve Your Search Experience).

References used:

Alford, Latisha. “How To Product Search For A Specific Price Range On Google Search Engine”. Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.

Russell, Daniel. Power Searching with Google. Google Inside Search, Sept. 2012. Web. 18 Sept. 2014.

“Search Features: Improve Your Search Experience”. Google. Google, n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2014.


Social Media and Netiquette – Conflicting Messages?

When reflecting on Social Media and one’s presence on the internet, I always think back to the instruction in digital etiquette that I received in mid- and high-school. I remember being given only two talks from grades eight to twelve. Both contained the same advice: you should not be on the internet because there are creepy people out there that will find you and stalk you and steal your stuff. Such advice is somewhat relevant, particularly for those who are barely legally old enough to be using social media. For example, we were specifically told many times to never put our real names or location on the internet. This would be beneficial to, say, a 13-year-old girl wanting to connect with friends and to avoid stalkers. But once one begins to move towards a career, it is imperative that one can be found on the internet as their true self (Business Know-How). Good netiquette involves more than making a password a mile long and not posting nude photos – it is about presenting your best, truest face for the entire world to see. The interconnected, collaborative nature of the new web can be a powerful tool for creation and empowerment, but only if you are not afraid to present your true self to the world.

As students move into high school, and move towards future careers, they should be taught to present their true self on the web, to network politely and in an engaged manner with friends, family and future employers. A focus on security and the protection of privacy is fine for younger teens, but as youths mature, they must move away from total isolation if they are to set themselves up for a successful future with social media.

Highlighting the difference in priorities for business and kids’ social media etiquette:

1) MediaSmarts – Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy.

2) Business Know-How; written by Lydia Ramsey.