Cookie Problems with Twitter
January 16, 2014 8:55 AM   Subscribe

I have software that I can set to do certain types of cleaning each time the computer restarts; delete temporary internet files, empty recycle bin, etc. I can also set it to delete cookies but I don't do it frequently because whenever cookies are deleted, specifically, the functionality on my Twitter account drops, i.e. I can't type in the comment box, I can't see new interactions and I can't see who is or isn't following me. I have to beg the company to do something (which they may or may not do over time) and eventually, functionality comes back. I've tried different browsers whenever I delete cookies and the same thing happens. I haven't noticed if I'm having problems with any of the other social media I use. Why is this happening and can I do anything to avoid it?
posted by CollectiveMind to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A "cookie" is a little bit of data that a web site sends to a browser, and the browser takes it, and next time it requests something from that web site it sends that little bit of data along with the request.

At the simplest, you might log in to a web site, and the web site might say "okay, here's a little something that says you've logged in, if you send it back later we'll assume you're still logged in". Cookies have an expiration time associated with them, it can be a few seconds, "until the browser shuts down", or tens of years. Cookies also have rules about what portions of a web site they're sent to, "everything from any domain that ends in" to "just this one file".

Obviously, this can be problematic: If you aren't using HTTPS and log in from a coffee shop somewhere, someone can sniff the WiFi, steal the cookie, and use it to impersonate you. So web sites that use cookies also often have a strategy that involves checking other aspects of your connection, which IP addresses you're coming in from, refreshing and deleting cookies regularly, to try to avoid someone just grabbing a cookie and impersonating you.

When you delete the cookie, you're confusing the web site. All of a sudden it isn't seeing some portion of what it's looking for to try to identify you, so it'll log you out. Or, if it's also trusting other things about you it can identify, it might lose functionality or whatever.

Short answer: You can't just go willy nilly deleting cookies and expect a complex web application to continue working. If you want to be careful about privacy, delete cookies from web sites you don't want to know about you, or fully log out of the web site first.

(And you should be able to fix Twitter, if it still things you're logged in, by logging out and then logging back in)
posted by straw at 9:07 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cookies are also browser specific. If you want to clean up cookies do it within the browser, not some third party app.

Personally, I don't see a reason to ever go mucking it them.

if you are truly concerned mark your browser to never accept them. The everything will be session dependent. I'd also not want to use the internet this way.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:27 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I delete all cookies every time I close my browser and the only issue that it has caused is that I have to log back into every site I visit every time I visit. I use Twitter every day and once I log back it in the site works fine for me. So I guess that is one data point for deleting cookies may not be the real problem.
posted by COD at 9:40 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think deleting cookies is the problem either. I think deleting some cookies is more likely to be the problem. Like straw said site put these on there for different reasons. Some sites put more than others. Cookies is how come after you view a product suddenly the ads you see on Facebook are for that product (yes, there are other ways this happens). Third party networks sometimes run across a family of sites.

My guess is the software is removing some of the twitter cookies, but leaving some of the others they use behind, so when CollectiveMind goes back to the site twitter doesn't know what content to serve.

It would take OS, browser, and the software used to even start to try to figure out what's going on, but the fact that the developer has accounted for this in the past makes it sound like it's the software.

At the end of they day, if the method you are using isn't working you need to find different methods if your desires outcome is something other than having the problem continue.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:47 AM on January 16, 2014

I use three different browsers:
1. Firefox for most regular browsing, with Flash blocked, most scripts blocked, and cookies purged completely every day.
2. Safari for banking and credit cards, just to keep those things firewalled off.
3. Chrome for those rare situations where blocking Flash and scripts screws things up.

Maybe you could dedicate a browser to Twitter?

(I assume there's a reason you're not using a dedicated Twitter application? Otherwise, wouldn't that be the easy way to do things?)
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:13 PM on January 16, 2014

So then, when I ask Twitter for help and hours later, functionality returns, what has happened? Can cookies be installed remotely? I haven't done anything except avoid the site in the interim.
posted by CollectiveMind at 10:08 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by Mister Bijou at 10:34 PM on January 16, 2014

Cookies cannot be installed remotely.

My guess (and this is only a guess) is that you are removing some cookies they depend on, but not others, leaving Twitter in what looks to them like a partially logged in nonfunctional state because they haven't coded against that eventuality (which is a bit sloppy of them but oh well.). In the hours during which you're asking them for help, they aren't doing anything; the temporary cookies you didnt delete reach their expiration date and remove themselves, leaving you fully logged out and ready to log in again.

The solution to this problem is to stop deleting twitter cookies. You're not increasing your privacy or security in any meaningful way by doing so. Most forms of user tracking they can do via cookies can be (and are) done other ways as well.
posted by ook at 9:09 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

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