For most people, cookies are a necessary evil when you’re surfing the web. They’re tiny text files stored on your phone or PC, which tell websites that you’ve visited them before (whether or not you’re logged in), and what pages you’ve been looking at.
Without them, you’d be faced with having to log into your email and shopping accounts every time you left and returned to a site, and your online shopping cart would mysteriously empty as you browse the virtual aisles of your favourite online retailer.
They’re beneficial to websites in other ways besides preventing customer confusion and angst. Publications can easily see which articles are popular with return visitors, and tailor their content accordingly.
However, they’re not always beneficial for your online activities. In this article, I explain the problems that cookies pose and how to clear the cookies from your browser.
What’s the Problem with Cookies?
You might not regard this information as being particularly secret, but you probably regard most of it as private. It’s unlikely that you want this detailed profile of you, your life and your friends sold on the open market.
What Can I Do About It?
The easiest way of preventing cross-site cookies from tracking you is to delete them. If the cookies are not on your system, it’s impossible for trackers to know which sites you’re visiting.
The exact procedure for flushing out unwanted cookies varies depending on which browser and which operating system you’re using. I’ve covered the main ones for you below.
Tests for Google Chrome, Edge, Opera and Mozilla Firefox were all run on a Windows 10 virtual machine running the latest updates as of January 2021. The procedure for Safari was carried out on virtualized Mac running Catalina.
How to Clear Your Cookies in Google Chrome
Emptying the “cookie jar” in Chrome can be accomplished in as few as 6 clicks from within the browser, and should be repeated on a regular basis.
In the top right corner of your browser window, below the window bar, you should see a button with three dots stacked vertically (the hamburger button) – hovering over it will reveal a tooltip saying, “Customise and control Google Chrome.”
Clicking the hamburger button will cause a drop-down menu to appear. To find the tools that will allow you to delete your cookies, you need to go into the settings section, which is the third item from the bottom of the list.
The settings menu will open as a page in a new tab which, by default, will be showing the “About Chrome” page. The actual settings menu will be displayed down the left hand side.
As you hover over each entry, the mouse pointer will transform to a hand, showing that it is actually a link to another page, but the text and background will not transform in any other way. You will be looking for the entry marked “Privacy and Security.”
Click on it to get to the privacy settings where you will find cookie management settings.
(Note: slightly swifter way of reaching this point is to copy this link into the address bar: chrome://settings/privacy )
The second option on the list will read “Cookies and other site data” – this is the option you need to click.
You’re getting close now, and after clicking through, all you need to do is make sure the middle option, “Cookies and other site data” is checked.
The top option, “clear browsing data,” will, as its name suggests, clear your browsing data – this means your history will be gone, and also that the handy autocomplete feature you use instead of typing out or pasting full URLs will vanish too. Leave this box unchecked, unless you’re sure that’s what you want.
Checking the lower box will clear out your browser cache. Chrome uses this cache to store images and documents so it can retrieve them quickly. In most cases, you will want to make sure this box remains unchecked, although we will revisit this later.
Above the checkboxes is a dropdown menu that allows you to choose the time period for which you want your cookies to be cleared. If you just want to lose all of your cookies, select “From the beginning of time.”
Hit the blue “clear data” button, and you’re done. Chrome will not give you a confirmation.
This is the best option if you plan on using a VPN to access content in another country, and will help ensure that you will be able to view their catalogue rather than your local one.
Deleting Individual Cookies in Chrome
Clearing all of your cookies from the beginning of time is the nuclear option, and comes with its own downsides. You’ll be signed out of all of the websites you were logged into, and the shopping carts will be emptied of everything.
Sites won’t remember what you’ve read and may offer you stale, instead of fresh, content. It’s far from an ideal option.
If you only want to clear your cookies for a particular site or group of sites, you can easily do this without ruining the rest of your internet experience. Here’s how.
From the “Cookies and Other Site Data” screen within the privacy section, select “See all cookies and site data.”
From this new screen, you can either search for the cookies left by individual sites, or browse a list. Clicking on “Remove all” will delete all of the cookies from the sites shown in the list.
Preventing Third-Party Cookies in Chrome
Some cookies are useful, both to you as an internet user, and to the individual sites. In most cases, the only cookies you need to worry about are the third-party cookies that follow you from site to site. These often have names that are not obvious and that can be hard to find using the search bar.
The best way to deal with these is to prevent third party cookies from being set in the first place.
Again, on the “Cookies and Other Site data” screen within the privacy section, you will see four radio buttons. The default is set to “Allow all cookies.”
Selecting “Block all third-party cookies” will, as you might expect, block third party trackers from following you, while checking “Block third-party cookies in incognito mode” will only block third party cookies when you’re browsing in a private window.
The “Block all cookies” option has a “not recommended” warning, as it will prevent even innocuous functional cookies, and may make your internet experience significantly worse.
You will also notice toggles for “Clear cookies and site data when you quit Chrome” and “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request with your browsing data.”
Setting “Clear cookies and site data when you quit Chrome” will ensure that no data or cookies will be preserved between sessions, and is great for making certain that your tracks are being covered.
“Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request with your browsing data” is useless. Few, if any, advertising and tracking companies respect this, due to there being no standard definition as to what it actually means and how it is to be interpreted and implemented. In the absence of these standards, it is usually ignored.
How to Clear Your Cookies in Mozilla Firefox
Firefox was created by the Mozilla Foundation and is considered to be far more privacy-respecting than Google’s Chrome browser. Deleting cookies from Firefox is easy!
Firefox’s menu is three horizontal stripes stacked vertically like a hamburger. It’s located just underneath the Window close button in the top right corner of the screen.
Clicking on this button will bring up a drop-down menu. You will be looking for the “Options” entry about halfway down.
Clicking on options will take you to the main Preference page, where you need to select the privacy and security entry on the left side of the page.
To locate the controls that will allow you to delete cookies in Firefox, scroll down until you see a section titled, “Cookies and Site Data.” This section holds three buttons towards the right hand side of the screen.
If you want to delete all of the cookies on your system, click the uppermost button, which is labelled “Clear Data.”
This will bring up a box containing two pre-checked options. To clear out your Firefox browser cache, leave both options checked. To clear only your cookies, uncheck the bottom option.
Once you have hit the blue “clear” button, another popup will appear asking you to confirm that you want to clear all your cookies and site data.
Confirm by clicking on “Clear Now,” and all of the option boxes will disappear. Firefox will not give you any confirmation that it has cleared out your cookies and site data, but you will notice that your stored cookies, site data and cache are now taking up 0 bytes of disk space.
If you want to be more selective about the cookies you delete, return to the Privacy and Security screen and scroll down until you locate “Privacy and Site Data.” This time you want to select “Manage data” from the options.
Now you will see a list of the sites that have cookies stored in your browser, along with a search box which allows you to look for cookies from specific sites. By default, the list will show all of the cookies, but as you type into the search box, most of these will disappear.
When only the cookies you want to delete are shown, click on “Remove All” and then on the “Save Changes” button.
Firefox will warn that you are about to delete cookies for the sites listed, so check that the cookies you want to delete are on the list, and press “Remove.”
You will not be given confirmation that Firefox has deleted your cookies and site data, but back on the privacy page, you will notice that the amount of disk space that cookies and site data are using has decreased.
In most cases, you don’t need to worry about third-party cookies in Firefox. They are blocked by default as part of the “balanced” security option.
You can easily change Firefox’s behavior so that it will not accept cookies at all, or set up custom controls if you have more nuanced cookie controls in mind. To do this, navigate back to the “Privacy and Security” section, which is part of the “Options” page.
In the “Browser Privacy” section, you will see that your privacy is set to standard. Clicking the “strict” radio button will block trackers in all of your Firefox windows, and may cause some sites to break. It will, however, still allow some cookies.
Using the custom options, you have more complete control of Firefox’s cookie policies.
From the drop-down menu on the right, you can choose to block all cookies, third-party cookies, those from sites you have never visited or trackers from social media.
After you have set these global rules, you may decide that you need to make exceptions to them.
Perhaps you’ve set a cast-iron no-cookies rule, but want to allow cookies from your favorite site. Alternatively, you may already allow all non-third-party cookies, but you just don’t trust the cookies from one particular site.
Fortunately, Firefox allows you to modify the rules that you set to allow more fine-grained control.
In the “Cookies and Site Data” section, look for “Manage Exceptions.”
Clicking on it will cause another popup window to spring into existence.
Type the name of the website you want to make a new rule for, and decide whether you want to block or allow cookies and site data.
It’s really important to get the name of the site exactly right and create separate entries for the address both with and without www.
https://example.com may not be the same website as https://www.example.com (although in most cases they will be), and specifying only one of these variants will result in your exception only being applied to that one site variant.
If you’re coming from an older version of Firefox, you probably recall that the browser used to have a setting that helped you to control how long cookies were allowed to stay on your system.
This functionality has been removed in more recent versions.
How to Clear Your Cookies in Edge
Microsoft’s flagship browser has undergone something of a sea-change in recent years and is now based on Google’s Chromium engine. This means that the procedure for cleaning out cookies is similar to the one we use for Chrome.
Find the three dots laid out horizontally towards the top right of the screen, and click them to bring up a menu, then locate the “Settings” entry.
From here, your browser will open an entirely new “Settings” page, with a vertical menu on the left.
To reach the point where you can clear your cookies, select the “Cookies and site permissions” entry. The right side of your browser will change to show a new set of sections, including one titled “Cookies and site data.”
There is only one option here – “Manage and delete cookies and site data.” This is the control center for controlling cookies in Edge, with a refreshing, clean and easy-to-understand interface.
This screenshot was taken on a clean Edge install on a spanking new Windows machine.
The “allow sites to save and read cookie data” toggle is set to “off,” and if you want, you can leave it that way – however, this is the master control, and websites may malfunction even if you agree to them storing cookies using their individual cookie consent popups, as the master control prevents them from being stored.
In fact, blocking cookies using this master switch will cause the cookies consent dialogue to appear on every page of every site you visit, even if you consent every time – creating a less-than-optimal browsing experience.
To clear out your cookies on Microsoft edge, you will need to select the next entry down – “See all cookies and site data.”
The control panel that appears will list all of the sites that have left cookies on your Windows machine, as well as telling you how many cookies have been stored.
It’s fairly certain that you will want to clear out third-party cookies (the ones that follow you around the internet), and you can do this by clicking on the “Remove third-party cookies” button on the top right.
You will be asked to confirm this in a dialogue box, so just click on the blue “clear” button.
If, instead, you want to zap every cookie that Edge has stored, click on the “Remove all” button, and then confirm on the following dialogue.
You may have noticed that the dialogue pictured does not explicitly warn you that you will be logged out of all the sites you’re currently logged into. You will be, so make sure that you’re OK with this.
All of your Edge cookies have now been deleted.
Opting for a more selective approach is simple, too. Staying within the “Cookies and site data” page, start typing the name of the cookies you want to delete into the search box on the very top right.
Entries will disappear from the list as you type, and the text of the “Remove all” button will change to “Remove all shown.” Click on this button to remove all of the cookies that contain the term you typed in.
Managing exceptions to the cookie rules is straightforward in Edge, and the “Cookies and site data” page has separate controls for allowing and blocking cookies on an individual basis.
To block certain cookies under all circumstances, press on the “Add” button in the “Block” section.
In the dialogue that appears, type in the name of the site you want to block cookies from and click “Add.”
Edge allows you to add subdomains and wildcards to the blocking list by typing [*.] immediately before the main site domain name.
For example, adding malware.com to the list will block cookies only from malware.com, but adding [*.]malware.com will block cookies from www.malware.com, evil.malware.com, www.evil.malware.com, and any other subdomains under the main malware.com domain name.
To allow sites to drop cookies in your Edge browser under all circumstances, press on the “Add” button in the “Allow” section.
In the dialogue that appears, add the name of the site that you want to allow, and click “Add.”
Again you have the option of adding subdomains.
At this point, you should know how to clear and take control of all of your cookies and cookie data on the Microsoft Edge Browser.
How to Clear Your Cookies in Opera
Privacy-wise, Opera is a pretty good browser. It makes an effort. There’s a built-in, free pseudo-VPN (which you shouldn’t use if privacy is a serious concern), and the welcome screen you see after a fresh install gives you a simple toggle to block ads and trackers.
Cookies are a different matter, and I’m going to show you how to clear cookies in Opera for Windows 10.
To clear cookies in Opera, the first thing you need to do is get to the settings menu.
If you have the default configuration, there will be a thin sidebar on the left of the screen, with a cog image near the bottom.
If the sidebar isn’t present, instead click on the red “O” in the very top left of the browser window to bring up a menu. The settings entry is located near to the bottom.
Alternatively, if you’re comfortable with using keyboard shortcuts, you can get to the settings screen by pressing the Alt + P key combination.
Whichever option you choose, you should end up on a screen that looks like this:
Second from the top, you’ll see the toggle switch to block internet trackers (you should probably turn this on).
Below the wallpaper selection menu is the “Privacy and Security” section, which is where you will find Opera’s cookie controls.
The top entry on the list is “Clear browsing data,” from which you can use the blunt instrument approach to cookies.
On the “Basic” tab in the “Clear browsing data” menu, there is a drop-down menu box and three checkboxes.
Use the drop-down to select what time period you want cookies to be removed for. The options are the last hour, last 24 hours, last 7 days, last four weeks, or all time.
To only remove cookies, uncheck the top and bottom checkboxes but leave the middle one, “Cookies and other site data,” checked.
Hit the blue “Clear data” button, and you will be returned to the main settings menu. Your cookies for the selected period will be gone.
To view all sites that have cookies stored in Opera on Windows 10, select “Cookies and other site data,” and scroll down until you see an entry marked “See all cookies and site data.”
Click on the gray arrow at the right of the screen to progress to the cookie management screen.
To completely remove all cookies from Opera, you can click on “remove all.” Alternatively, you can press the garbage icon next to any entry on the list to remove cookies for an individual site.
If you know the name of the site for which you want to delete cookies, but you can’t find it on the list that Opera gives, start typing the name of the site into the “search cookies” box at the top right of the page. Entries not containing the text you enter will vanish from the list.
When the only entries left are the ones you want to remove, either press “Remove all shown” or click on the gray garbage icon to the right.
Setting Your Own Rules for Cookies in Opera
To set your own rules for cookies, select “Cookies and other site data” from the settings page.
Here, you’ll see that the default setting is to block third-party cookies in private mode. This means that cookies can follow you from site to site and report your activities to tracking companies if you’re not in private mode – which is not ideal.
To block third-party tracking cookies under all circumstances, select the radio button on the third option from the top, “Block third-party cookies.”
Again, you have the option of either blocking or allowing all cookies. Neither of these are recommended.
Below this section, there are controls that will help you to set rules for cookies from individual websites.
To add a site, type its URL into the box. To allow all subdomains of the site including www, preface the the site name with [*.]. Eg. [*.]thecrow.uk. This is called a wildcard.
You will notice a checkbox that allows a certain site to use third-party cookies. You probably want to leave this unchecked.
To remove the entry or to change it, click on the three vertical dots on the right to bring up a new menu.
“Remove” will remove the site from your list – meaning that it gets the same treatment as cookies from other websites.
“Edit” allows you to change the address of the site – for instance, by adding subdomains.
Selecting “Clear on exit” means that regardless of the system cookie rules or special rules, cookies from this site will be deleted as soon as you close down Opera.
The top item on this menu depends on whether the entry is for a site you’ve explicitly blocked or allowed. If it’s currently allowed, the menu item will read, “Block.” If it’s currently blocked, the item will read, “Allow,” and clicking it will permit cookies from that site under all circumstances.
How to Clear Your Cookies in Safari
(Safari v13.13 on virtualized MacOS Catalina)
Apple has a great reputation for keeping its users secure and their privacy intact, but it doesn’t control how you browse the web or give you a great deal of control over what cookies you allow into your Safari browser.
Here’s how you clear out cookies in Safari 13.13.
In the menu bar in the top left of your browser window, click on the word Safari in bold, then, in the drop down menu, choose “Preferences.”
This will bring up a free-floating window on top of your current tab, with a row of icons along the top. The one we’re looking for is titled Privacy. It is towards the right of the row and depicts a white hand within a blue circle.
Click on this icon and the window will shrink, giving you limited options. Click on “Manage Website Data” to go straight through to the Cookie management window for Safari.
Another menu will drop down, listing all the cookies and other data stored by your Safari Browser. To wipe everything, press on “Remove All.”
If you only want to remove certain cookies, start typing the name into the search box on the top left. Entries not containing that term will disappear.
When only the items you want to delete are shown, hit “Remove All.”
One important thing to note is that this menu contains cache items and other data as well as cookies. This can include images and other files that help Safari to load faster for websites you have previously visited.
If you want to delete cookies individually from the list, highlight them individually by clicking on them. Multiple cookies can be selected by holding down the cmd key as you click. Once all of the cookies you want to delete are highlighted blue, press “Remove.”
Clicking on the blue “Done” button will take you back to the main privacy menu.
Safari has very limited options available for controlling which cookies it allows onto your device, and these are the two checkboxes on the main “Privacy” menu.
Checking the “Prevent cross-site tracking” box stops Safari from accepting third-party cookies that follow across the net.
Checking “Block All Cookies” will block all cookies, sign you out of all websites and prevent you from signing back in. You will also be subjected to endless popup notices and consent forms, as without cookies, websites will have no way of knowing you have previously interacted with them. It’s far from ideal.
There’s some debate around what supercookies actually are, and there’s no concrete definition about how they work, either. For the purposes of this guide, it helps to think of them as insidious stowaways that don’t declare themselves as cookies, that stick around where they’re not supposed to, and which can be very difficult to get rid of.
Until a few years ago, one of the biggest supercookie vulnerabilities was through unique identifying information injected into web page headers by your own ISP. Fortunately, with the overwhelming majority of websites now using HTTPS, this is no longer effective, and the technology used to track you has moved on.
In most cases these days, supercookies work by abusing the browser cache. A tracking network can create a supercookie by encoding an identifier for the user in a cached image on one website, and then retrieving that identifier on a different website by embedding the same image. This method can also be used with text files and even favicons (the little icons on your browser tabs).
You can’t clear out this type of supercookie by any of the methods described above, and to deal effectively with this type of supercookie, you need to flush out your local cache as often as possible – or disable your browser cache altogether.
Read our guide on how to clear your browser cache here.