Increase privacy in Safari and how to crush cookies on the Apple Mac

How to increase privacy when using Safari to browse the web on the Apple Mac. How to clear cookies that track you.

In this article I take a look at a new privacy setting in Safari that appears to be turned off by default, and how to manage and crush the many cookies that are stored on the computer.

This is partly an article on privacy, but it also looks at the different methods of selecting items in lists. A list of cookies will be used in the example, but lists are common and Finder for example, shows files in a list view. The techniques you learn here can be used when selecting files in Finder and lists in other places.

What is cross site tracking?

Cross-site tracking or cross-domain tracking as it is sometimes called is a method of tracking users. Its aims are perfectly respectable. Suppose a website has a store and the URLs are different. Cross-site tracking could be used to follow visitors from the website, such as a sales page, to the store.

The site would be able to follow someone from landing on a page through to the checkout in the store. Sometimes websites use third party shopping carts rather than invent their own and cross-site tracking would enable visitors to be followed from site to checkout.

That is fine, but cross-domain tracking could be misused by advertisers to track you as you browse the web. That is not so welcome and some people do not like this loss of privacy and do not want advertisers looking over their shoulder as they use the internet.

The latest version of Safari enables you to choose whether to allow or block cross-site tracking. Open Safari and go to Safari > Preferences > Privacy and there is an option at the top, Prevent cross-site tracking.

Setting to prevent cross-site tracking in Safari on the Apple Mac

Should you enable this? There is no right or wrong answer and different people have different opinions. I don’t tick this box, but you might think differently.

Crush browser cookies

Click the button, Manage Website Data and a list of the cookies stored on the computer is listed. Websites use cookies to store information, such as your login details if you have an account, whether you have seen the cookie notice if you are in the EU, website preferences, selected items in a store, shopping carts and so on.

It is all useful stuff, except when it gets misused by advertisers. Cookies are not inherently bad, but they can be used in ways that were not intended.

There is a button to remove all cookies, but this deletes the good ones along with the bad ones. It will mean that the next time you visit a website of which you are a member, you will be prompted to log in. If you rely on the browser to remember your login details, it may not have them if the cookie is deleted, so you won’t get in.

It is essential that you know your account and login details for every website you use before you remove all cookies, or have them stored somewhere. It is a pain having to log in everywhere you go, but it can be done. I recommend not clearing them all.

Select and delete cookies in Safari on the Apple Mac

Alternatively, you can delete the unwanted cookies and leave the good ones. Click a cookie to select it and then click Remove to delete it.

Which cookies are unwanted? Nearly all cookies with names that begin with ad... are advertiser cookies and can be deleted. Any cookie with a name or website you don't recognise is usually unnecessary. You can see the useful ones because they contain company names like Google or Amazon, and website URLs you regularly visit. Delete the unknown cookies and leave the ones you know.

Select and delete cookies in Safari on the Apple Mac

List selection shortcuts

The trouble is, there are hundreds of cookies and selecting and deleting each one individually would take all day. This is where list selection shortcuts are useful.

There are ways of selecting items in lists, such as this cookie list, a list of files in Finder, and lists used elsewhere, that make the task easier.

Select one item: Click in the list to select a single item.

Select all items: Click in the list and press Command+A to select every item in it.

Select several adjacent items: Click one item, hold down the Shift key and press another item to select all the items between.

Select non-adjacent items: If there are several items in the list, but they are not next to each other so you can’t Shift+click them, Hold down Command as you click the items. It adds to the selected items.

Combinations of these controls can be used: For example, you could click one item, Shift+click another item to select everything between, then add to the selection by Command+clicking elsewhere in the list.

You can also click an item, Shift+click another to select all between, Command+click elsewhere, then Shift+click a bit farther on to select all between. You then have two selections, each of which contains multiple items.

Here’s a useful trick to use with lists. Sometimes you want to select all the items, except for a few odd ones you don't. To do this, click in the list and press Command+A to select all the items. Then go through the list and Command+click the ones you want to deselect. 

This can be used with cookies. Select all the items then go through the list and Command+click the ones you want to keep before clicking the Remove button. Keep any website you recognise and use, but remove anything you don't recognise or use.

 

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