Browser Cookies at the NBER
Presumably you have been directed to this web page because you tried to access a part of the NBER web site which requires cookies but your web browser either does not support cookies or you have them disabled.
What is a cookie?
A cookie is a small piece of information a web site places on your browser which your browser then transmits back to the web site whenever we request it. A cookie does not know anything about your computer other than either what you tell the website yourself or what is being told every time you access a page (operating system, Mac, PC, or Unix, etc.). That is to say, if you type in your name or username on a website, the cookie might have that information. If you've never given that information to a site, it cannot (with or without cookies) get this information from your computer. A cookie usually also contains an id number the website itself generates.
By giving your browser a number and then getting this number back whenever it wants, the website can track your movements within the site itself. It can know for example that you went to "Search" and then to "Products," etc. It cannot know any other websites you visit (e.g., it doesn't know that you went to "Search," then spent 5 minutes at WSJ.com, then returned to "Products"). Often this information is used just for study purposes and it does not hamper your experience to turn off cookies. However, to use a web site with, say, a shopping basket, cookies are a must--the web site needs some way of knowing that the same person who added CD X to her shopping basket is the same person who added DVD Y three minutes earlier. (otherwise you'd have to check out after every item).
Cookies also allow for central login pages for sites (like ours, or the NYTimes or eBay) where it is important not just to know that you have successfully logged into a particular account but also what privileges go along with that account.
(In the interest of fairness, I should note that Amazon.com has worked out a way to shop with cookies off, so it is possible, but it is extremely difficult to implement and one can expect only very large sites to use this. None of the other sites mentioned above work properly without cookies).
If you don't think you turned off cookies
On Internet Explorer on the PC, Cookies are found under the menu bar "Tools->Internet Options," click on the "Privacy" tab (IE 5+). The settings of Medium or Medium High should work for access to the Bureau's website. (The settings about "Third Party cookies" generally concern cookies placed by advertisers in sites you are visiting. The NBER has no advertisers or third party cookies). Other web browsers have similar cookie settings under "Options" or "Preferences." Your firewall or firewall software might also be set up to block cookies. Similarly, you might have installed an overzealous piece of privacy software which is blocking all cookies. Most of these programs have an option to exempt a site. Try exempting www.nber.org to see if it solves your problem.
We do not share personal information outside the Bureau except as required by law. In the first three years of this system (from December 2001), we sent no group emails to the list of users we keep. We do not intend to send any in the future except if it is absolutely necessary.
Michael Scott Cuthbert