Each week I buy a package of cheap storebrand sugar cookies, I call them my “Horrible Cheap Cookies.” I eat 2 or 3 when my blood sugar dips. My wife laughs at me, but I kind of like those no-name maple cookies.

I have no idea what’s in them. I can guess, but do I really know?

Can you see the metaphor coming?

Web browser cookies, invented originally as a means of convenience to remember preferences from a web site, are now a true monster, at the core of the surveillance economy.

Still, as explained so cutely here, we imagine being observed by nasty cookie ogres.

It was only 2016 sites described cookie tracking as merely annoying when product pages you visited followed you as ads. They made it out they only thing to worry about were those mean nasty hackers (not even paying attention to the manipulating of public thought active at the time nor the revelations shared by Edward Snowden):

Some websites may not be secure, allowing hackers to intercept cookies and view the information they carry. The cookies themselves are not harmful, but because they may carry sensitive information, you should only use cookies on sites you trust to be safe and secure.

https://blog.productcentral.aol.com/2016/06/22/what-are-cookies-doing-to-your-computer

And while you can find plenty of web things that try to explain what cookies are— do you really know what they look like? Have you seen the innards of one?

You cannot find them on an iOS device- what you get buried in the Safari settings is “Website data” likely more of it cached media, but the cookies are in there. Heck, my blog even fills it up (huh, what is cogdogblog.com up to??).

What’s inside all this web site data?

Can you open these files on your own device? No. Can you even see them? Not that I can tell.

Cookies are in there, somewhere.

I still want to see the cookies.

To pry the lid off of them, one way is to open the developer’s tools in your browser; here I am using the instructions for finding cookies in Chrome after I pay a visit to http://amazon.ca/.

So I can see the value of the cookies, is there value in this? Here is a click through all the name/value pairs that amazon stores on my device (and thus is able to read/set on their side).

I can see two that are language preferences. And while I can see that s_cc is true… what is that? Stored credit card? shares creative commons? Who knows? Many of them are encoded/hashed strings, so it’s just gibberish to me.

My gibberish.

At least Amazon is in it for the long haul… look how many of these will stay on my machine until 2040. Some old cookies, indeed.

Can I see the insides of my cookies now? Yes. Heck, I could even edit them. Does that make them taste any better? That’s a judgement call.

I was curious to know more, like where are they on your computer? Unlike my iPhone, I can actually poke around. I found a post by developer Max Chadwick on Exporting Your Browser Cookies on a Mac (Chrome, Firefox, Safari).

To find them for Chrome, I need to look inside a directory ~/Library/Application Support/Google/Chrome (the squiggle tilde is a shorthand for my home directory). Apple’s OS does this convenient thing of hiding your Library directory, but I know the old trick of in the Finder, holding the option key and open the Go menu – this adds Library to the list.

Yikes I have several Profiles listed (it’s because have setup separate People for accessing other google accounts), but I will guess it’s Profile 1 as my first account ever.

Navigating in Mac os to the Google / Chrome library folders. Listed among others are "Profile 1", "Profile 4", "Profile 5"...

And there it is! Cookies! a 96k file.

Hmm, it’s all text right? Here’s a scroll through:

Well as Max’s article described, what we have here is a binary file readable only as an sqlite database. Now this is TRANSPARENCY!

In the end, I found and saw my cookies. Even with this, I don’t have a clue what they mean, how they are used. I don’t know what happens when this info is read by Amazon when I visit their site, I don’t know how/where they store the information.

I know very little.

Still, I like my cheap maple cookies.

Post Postscript


Image Credit: My own photo, actually two of them, I had to layer the image because the computer screen was washed out when I focused on the cookies, and the cookies out of focus when I focused on the screen. It’s sort of the cheap version of HDR.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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