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What are cookies?

Cookies are small pieces of information a web site (with the help of your Internet browser) creates on your computer. Web sites often use cookies to remember useful information as you move from one page to the next. Some web sites store cookies to your computer's hard disk so they can remember information between site visits. It is these stored cookies that pose the greatest challenge to your privacy and security.

How does Absolute CE use cookies?

Absolute CE only requires temporary, "session-only" cookies. These cookies are not stored to disk and disappear when you close your browser. They cannot be used to track your usage over time or build a "profile" of your personal information. The information in these cookies simply helps us keep track of your progress as you move through the enrollment process and our online real estate courses. This information does not contain sensitive data, like credit card information, and it can only be accessed by absolutece.com.

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Reputable web site operators use cookies to enhance the usability and efficiency of their sites. Cookies are small pieces of information your web browser stores either to your computer's memory or disk.

Cookies stored in temporary memory are often called session-only cookies because they are created by a web site for a single session. Session-only cookies disappear when you close your web browser or when the web site that created them explicitly ends the session due to inactivity or some other reason. Session-only cookies are used to carry helpful information from page to page as you browse a web site. For example a session-only cookie might keep track of what page you are on as you flip through records in a database. Most experts recommend you enable (or rather don't disable) session-only cookies. This is because they pose little security or privacy risks; and, disabling them would cause a large number of reputable, mainstream web sites to stop working properly.

Cookies stored to disk can stay on your computer indefinitely. Resetting your computer and closing your web browser will have no effect on these cookies. You must explicitly delete these cookies or wait for them to expire if they were created with an expiration date.

Some of these disk-based cookies can only be read by the web site that created them. These so called First-Party cookies help site operators "remember" important things about you (e.g. your user name, zip code) so you don't have to keep providing the same information every time you visit their site. Some, but not all, experts recommend you enable first-party disk-based cookies. Many web sites simply do not need disk-based cookies to maintain a good user experience, but others will fail.

Some other disk-based cookies can be shared between multiple – potentially unrelated – web sites. These Third-Party cookies have caused much of the fear and confusion concerning user privacy. There are some legitimate uses for third-party cookies but these have be overshadowed by a multitude of illegitimate uses. Most experts recommend you disable third-party disk-based cookies. This is because disk-based cookies capable of being passed to third-parties are rarely needed for legitimate purposes.

So are cookies a security or privacy risk?

Assuming you have applied current security patches to your browser, cookies by themselves do not pose a serious security threat. You just need to understand what information is being stored in them and how it is being used.

For example you would never allow a web site to store financial information in a cookie. And you would not allow a site to use a cookie to log you in automatically if the site contained sensitive personal or financial information (e.g. online banking), because this would allow anyone with access to your computer – a co-worker at the keyboard or a hacker who has somehow gained "remote access" – to login to your most sensitive web sites without even knowing your user name or password. Finally, if you did allow a low-risk site, like Absoluce CE, to use cookies to log you in automatically you would want to make sure the information in the cookie is encrypted. This is because the information in the cookie could potentially be read and used to guess your user name and password in more important web sites.

Disk-based cookies can, and often do, pose a privacy risk because they allow a variety of web sites and "spyware" programs to build a personal "profile" of who you are and what you do. For example you might allow your favorite weather web site to store your zip code to a disk-based cookie so you can get the local forecast every morning without having to retype your zip code. You figure this is no big deal since the weather web site doesn't know who you are. They just know your zip code, so no harm done. But what you may not realize is that the weather web site may work with a network of other web sites to compile all your little pieces of information (like zip code) into a single, amazingly complete, demographic profile. And this isn't just your name and address. It's your opinions (ever answered an online poll?), your purchases (ever bought anything online), and your web usage patterns.

The best way to avoid privacy issues is to (1) make sure your computer is free of spyware, (2) disable third-party cookies, and (3) read the privacy statements of sites you use.


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