While navigating the internet, you will often come across a prompt asking you to accept cookies before continuing. Despite the availability of cookies and privacy policies, many individuals accept cookies without reviewing them. Cookies play a role in enhancing the user experience by customizing website content according to individual preferences. For instance, they enable the retention of items in an online shopping cart between different sessions.
What Is a Cookie? 🍪
In the realm of website browsing, a cookie is a petite file that your computer dutifully retains on behalf of a website. However, it's important to note that these cookies lack the sweetness of their culinary counterparts. The term "cookie," coined by programmer Lou Montulli, draws inspiration from another computing component known as a magic cookie.
So, why does your computer store these files? The reasons are multifaceted. In general, cookies serve the purpose of aiding web servers in remembering your interactions. When you engage in an action on a website—whether it's something as simple as switching to the dark mode or logging into your account—your computer takes note of it. Subsequently, when you revisit the website, your computer dutifully hands over the stored information to the website, facilitating a seamless user experience.
Types of Cookies
Consider a scenario where you visit a popular website that features kangaroos. This website offers a broad range of customization options, such as the ability to modify your font to Arial or alter the background color. Your computer stores a cookie that saves these specific preferences. After visiting a different animal-related website and subsequently closing your browser, ilovekangaroos reloads your tailored settings based on the cookie.
In this instance, the cookie is classified as a persistent cookie because it persists even after you exit the browser. Conversely, session cookies are deleted when you quit the browser. Additionally, since the website you visited, ilovekangaroos, created the cookie, it is categorized as a first-party cookie.
Tracking cookies are created by third-party domains, which are different from the domain of the website you're visiting. If you browse two different websites that both display ads from the same provider, that provider will create a tracking cookie. As you move between sites that use the same code, the provider will recognize you and serve up targeted ads. Third-party cookies track your browsing habits to build out a profile that's used for advertising. It's worth noting that tracking cookies can be blocked or deleted, depending on your browser settings.
What Are Cookies Made Of?
Cookies are a versatile data type that serves different purposes. For instance, some cookies are designed to keep you logged in to a website without requiring you to enter your credentials each time you visit. To view the cookies stored in your browser, you can access the cookie settings on Google Chrome by going to Settings > Privacy and security > Cookies and other site data. On Firefox, you can manage cookies under Preferences > Privacy & Security > Cookies and Site Data (note that you should use the Storage Inspector to view their actual contents).
The Disadvantages of Cookies
Although first-party cookies can enhance your browsing experience, you should be mindful of their privacy implications. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enforces strict guidelines for data protection, and many websites must comply. Third-party cookies can be particularly problematic for privacy-conscious users as they can track browsing habits across the web. Social media "share" buttons can also collect information about your activity, even if you don't interact with them. This exposes potentially sensitive data without your knowledge, which can be harmful if it falls into the wrong hands. While the party collecting the data may not intend to use it maliciously, they could sell it to others who do. To protect yourself, it's crucial to be aware of these privacy risks.
Is It Worth Getting Rid of Cookies?
To enhance your browsing experience, disabling all types of cookies may not be the best approach, but it's a good idea to disable third-party cookies to minimize the risks of unintended data exposure. If a website restricts access unless you enable cookies, you can always switch them back on temporarily. Although you can send a Do Not Track request to prevent third-party cookies, many websites ignore it. Fortunately, some browsers now block third-party cookies by default, and various browser extensions like Privacy Badger and Ghostery are also available to prevent unwanted tracking.
While cookies have been associated with privacy concerns, they serve a crucial function in enhancing user experience by storing data on a user's device. First-party cookies are an essential part of modern-day browsing and help to streamline online activities. On the other hand, third-party cookies primarily serve data mining companies rather than the user. With the use of browser tools, blocking most third-party cookies is easy, thus reducing the risks associated with data exposure. It is essential to be aware of the potential risks associated with cookies and take appropriate measures to ensure that personal information is not unknowingly leaked.