Now, you might be asking, “What are cookies? How do they contribute to my browsing experience?“
Here’s everything you need to know about cookies, how it improves your browsing experience, and how to stay safe online.
What are Cookies?
Cookies are small files that help websites remember information about their users. It helps make a user’s browsing experience more seamless and personalized.
These files usually contain personal information that differentiates you from other users. These text files are stored on your computer or web browsers to track data.
The most common examples are your name, address, phone number, and more, depending on the website’s requirements.
It’s also how web servers remember your computer or mobile device. It lets websites know your activity online to improve your browsing experience further.
As we further explain how cookies improve your browsing sessions, you will understand the pros and cons of these computer cookies.
How Do Cookies Work?
Computer cookies are one way for a web server to remember your activity online.
A typical example is how eCommerce websites keep your things in your cart even if you open other websites.
Cookies are exchanged between your computer and the network server. When you open a website, it tracks your online behavior and creates a cookie labeled with a unique ID.
When you close your browser, it can either delete or store information. When you open that same website, it can bring back any stored data collected.
- Auto-fill login details and forms
- Streamlines checkout processes and browsing
- Customized ads based on the user’s browsing history
- Security authentication
- Uses local storage
- Unauthorized data collection
How to Allow Cookies
Accepting cookies usually depends on the cookie consent banner displayed on the web page. Besides clicking on the banner to allow cookies, you can also manage cookies through settings.
It can depend on your web browser. Changing these settings on Google Chrome can differ across Safari, Microsoft Edge Browser, and other internet browsers.
Find the cookie section in your Privacy Settings. Then, tick the boxes shown to allow cookies. These are sometimes labeled as “Allow Local Data.”
How to Block Cookies
The different mandates allow users to block or remove cookies according to their preferences.
Just like the previous option, simply go to the Privacy Settings of your web browser or website. It can be listed under Tools, Advanced, or Internet Options.
Most browsers have the same prompts to help you block or clear cookies.
What are Cookies Used for?
Different types of cookies are used to track and manage different kinds of information. However, they have the same goal of streamlining your online experience.
Without cookies, multiple visits to the same site would be a hassle.
These are the different functions of web cookies and how they can help users and web developers.
Specific cookies work on tracking online activity. Not only does it help websites with their statistics and analytics, but it also helps them provide a better experience for you as a consumer.
It’s also used for cross-site tracking. It tracks other site data from the different sites you open to help curate your online experience.
A great example is how shopping sites can suggest other products based on the site data gathered while you are browsing their site.
Computer cookies help website servers greatly, especially if many people access them.
When you accept cookies, you’re helping clear out space for the website server.
It helps websites personalize your experience while saving money on server maintenance and storage costs.
A tracking cookie helps curate a website’s ads based on your browsing history.
If you’ve searched for a specific travel destination, the ads on your web browser may suggest places and products about that place.
Since computer cookies help you understand your online activity better, they can personalize specific parts of the site to help you enjoy browsing.
Ads are usually more targeted based on your interests. Languages and regions you’re currently in also affect what you see online.
Session cookies help track a user’s session on the website. It helps the website recall specific information, like login details and preferences.
If you accidentally click on a link or go back to a page, you can easily retrieve the page you were at, thanks to these cookies.
Types of Internet Cookies
There are many types of browser cookies, and they’re all able to collect and save data. However, they all function differently.
These are the different types of cookies and how they work while a person’s browsing online:
HTTP cookies are the most common cookies used by developers today to help manage your online experience.
It’s a web version of the original computer cookie, the magic cookies, which will be discussed later.
This cookie is created when you allow web browsers to do so. It’s stored locally and handles stored information differently.
HTTP cookies can be further divided into different types. Each plays a specific role in your online experience. Most of them are harmless.
However, some require you to be wary, like third-party cookies.
How does each of these cookies work, and what are their pros and cons?
A session cookie is created as you navigate through a website.
It can be compared to short-term memory, where it will collect data as necessary. Then, it will automatically clear cookies once the browsing session is over.
Instead of storing them like other computer cookies, these are only in a temporary memory location, making it easy to delete cookies after.
A great example of this would be the cookie consent plugins for WordPress, which are usually used for blogs and websites of small businesses.
Unlike session cookies, persistent cookies can be compared to long-term memory, where you can have the data stored for longer periods.
Persistent cookies remain on your computer for an indefinite time. They usually include an expiration date which will automatically remove cookies after some time.
They can be further divided into two:
- Authentication Cookies – It tracks your login information, and as a computer or mobile device user, you don’t have to log in every time you open the same site.
- Tracking Cookies – It tracks the many websites you may visit, including web pages of products and services, to make a profile based on your browsing history.
These cookies are also responsible for keeping things in your cart while you’re online shopping and remembering important information.
Cookies that are directed by the website you’re visiting are called first-party cookies. They’re the ones that improve your experience on that specific site.
They store information that is generally linked to the site. These cookies are easy to manage and can be viewed through the settings preferences.
A first-party cookie is generally safe as long as the website you’re visiting is reputable and hasn’t been compromised.
Third-party cookies are generated by websites based on other sites linked to the one you’re surfing. If you see 10 advertisements, there are 10 active cookies, even if you don’t click them.
A third-party cookie is usually used to let advertisers and analytical companies track browsing history across different sites instead of just a specific one.
It’s common for people to block third-party cookies because of how they work. While it does help with tracking and improving advertisements, it also has its negatives.
These cookies are usually seen as a data privacy risk since third-party cookies are usually sold without the user’s knowledge.
Zombie cookies are derived from third-party cookies and are permanently installed on your computers, even if you choose to block cookies.
They received their name because they would reappear even after you’ve deleted them. While there are ways to delete them, it can be extremely difficult.
Web analytics companies usually use them to track down the histories of unique individuals. They can even be used to ban specific users from accessing a website.
A magic cookie is the older version of our modern browser cookies. They’re information that can be sent and received without changes.
Magic cookies are now commonly used in internal systems.
A common example would be internal networks in businesses and establishments, which can only be accessed by authorized personnel.
HTTP cookies are a type of magic cookie which is encrypted. It only allows the creator of the cookie to read the data on it.
Risks of Cookies
When people think of risks, they immediately think that cookies steal passwords.
Under normal circumstances, cookies stored on computers and mobile devices are generally harmless, especially if you only access reputable websites.
Their main purpose is to improve your browsing sessions. However, there are times when user privacy may be in danger, especially if the data falls into the wrong hands.
These are some of the risks when you accept cookies.
Tracking Cookies on a Web Server Can Be Misused
The most common risk for cookies is how they can fall into the wrong hands, especially if you’re on an unreliable site.
Malevolent entities can hack and use third-party tracking cookies to access your browsing session, abuse cookie data, and steal information without your knowledge.
Hackers can even use these cookies to send commands to the website’s backdoors. It allows them to hijack the user’s session and do things on their behalf.
If you’re taking extra measures to protect your identity online, you can lessen the risk of this happening.
You can establish strong passwords and two-factor authentication to help you with that.
Cookie stuffing is when online hackers inject iframes with affiliate links, compromising the website. This is most common with online shopping sites.
When visitors open these hacked pages, they usually don’t recognize when cookies are loaded onto the browser.
Attackers will receive revenue from the links if a user makes a purchase on the hacked site.
Frequently Asked Questions
You may have other questions about cookies that we can still discuss.
We’ve gathered the most commonly asked questions to help you further understand what cookies are.
What Information Do Cookies Collect?
Computer cookies usually require and collect the following site data:
- Browsing activity
- Purchase history
- Login information
While it can collect simple information, like preferences, it can also create whole profiles based on your activity over time.
Should I Accept Cookies?
It’s a user’s choice if they should accept cookies or not.
While websites recommend it to improve your browsing experience, you must also be aware of the risks. Actively managing cookies once a month can help you keep only the necessary computer cookies.
You can always delete cookies on your computer by accessing them on your settings.
Why Do Websites Ask for Cookies?
Numerous laws, such as the CCPA and the Cookie Law, are in place to protect people’s personal data.
Part of these laws would state how website owners should inform users why cookies are in place and how it tracks users when they visit a website.
What Happens If I Decline Cookies?
When you decline cookies, this is taken into account by a cookie consent manager, blocking the website from dropping cookies onto your device.
For some websites, it can make their interface break from time to time. Clearing cookies will also automatically log you out of your accounts.
While it does help with security, it can affect your browsing experience and convenience.
Computer cookies aren’t inherently good or bad. Learning about how cookies track and save data can help users take the necessary steps to protect their data online.
Whether you’re a website owner looking to improve your site or a user who wants to learn how cookies work, it’s essential to be aware of these when surfing the web.