If you’ve ever wondered about how Web sites are tracking your movements across the Internet, as many of us do these days, then a handy utility could prove very useful and enlightening.
As an accountant and tax practitioner, you want to be sure to protect the confidentiality of your client files, so security is also important. I’ve been testing out a utility called Maxa Cookie Manager that allows you to keep track of the cookies planted in your Web browser that are also keeping track of you.
The Cookie Manager installs easily enough like any Windows application. It lets you check off a series of familiar Web sites that you can mark as ones you regularly visit. The program then displays a list of the various cookies it finds on your browser or browsers. On my laptop, it found over 400 of them (including many from our Web site). You get options to evaluate, delete, and view the details of the various cookies. Maxa color-codes the various cookies in red, yellow and green, indicating respectively whether they’re Web bugs used for tracking ads, those with a long expiry time that could be storing a large amount of information, and those that seem less problematic.
You can also “whitelist” some cookies, such as those that let you log on automatically to password-protected sites. Those are marked in gray and can be managed as well.
The latest version of the software, Maxa Cookie Manager 5.0, was released recently. It includes the ability to automatically delete the browser cache and browsing history of all your installed browsers and plug-ins. According to Maxa, this feature will completely remove so-called “evercookies,” which are notoriously difficult to delete. It also will prevent a site from finding out whether you have visited a specific Web page, which Maxa refers to as “history stealing.”
Other features include faster cookie management speed, and support for new and upcoming versions of the Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Opera browsers. You can also “pre-listen” to the sounds in your settings (Maxa makes sounds like a cookie-crunching noise to alert you to cookie activities, if you want).
As concern increases about how sites track users’ browsing habits and target ads based on browsing activities, utilities like Maxa Cookie Manager can be handy and quite illuminating. Internet cookies can keep track of your private information such as the sites where you shop, countries where you bring your laptop, and hotels or companies that you have visited. That could include the client offices where you might bring your laptop and log into the network there.
The Federal Trade Commission has proposed requiring browser developers to offer users an easy way to prevent sites or third parties from tracking their movements and personal information, letting users opt out and browse privately through a kind of Do Not Track button on the browser.
According to Maxa Research chief technology officer Jens Muller, the problem with that approach is that the combination of plug-ins used by the different browsers is very high so interoperability is difficult to achieve, and a private browsing mode might not work with plug-ins like Adobe Flash, which can store user information and regenerate deleted cookies.
Maxa Research CEO Manfred Rolle recommends that for accountants to communicate securely with their clients, they should send client data and attachments using 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, secure data transmission and 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard, or AES, data storage encryption. Those are the same protocols used in many online banking environments and in an encryption product from his company, Maxa Crypt. In the meantime, Maxa Cookie Manager offers a handy way to practice some safer surfing for you and your clients across the Internet. You can download the standard version for free at www.maxa-tools.com.