What are internet cookies and how to control them

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  • What are internet cookies and how to control them
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The message that pops-up while you are browsing online asking you to “accept all cookies”.

Cookies can help provide a unique user experience. But what are the different types of cookies? What are they used for? Can they be deleted or blocked? Read this article to find out more about cookies and how they affect you.

What are cookies? 

A computer “cookie” is more formally known as an HTTP cookie, a web cookie, an Internet cookie, or a browser cookie. The name is a shorter version of “magic cookie,” which is a term for a packet of data that a computer receives, then sends back without changing or altering it. No matter what it’s called, a computer cookie consists of information. When you visit a website, the website sends the cookie to your computer. Your computer stores it in a file located inside your web browser.

Are cookies good or bad?

Cookies are used to make the user's web experience faster, convenient and personalized. For example, you can select a language to view a website the first time you visit it. When you visit the website again it will save your preference.

Types of internet cookies

Session Cookies – Session cookies are temporary packets of information that a user’s browser stores. These cookies remain in your history as long as you have your browser open. Right after you end the session and close your browser, the browser deletes the session cookies. Because these cookies don’t remain stored anywhere, experts regard them to be the safest.

Persistent Cookies – Persistent cookies are the opposite of session cookies. As the name suggests, this type of cookie remains in a user’s web history for a considerable amount of time. Persistent cookies are stored on a user’s device to help the browser remember information like settings, preferences, or sign-on credentials that they’ve previously saved. This cookie is used to create a convenient and faster website experience for the user. The website that created them assigns the cookie an expiry date; after this expiry limit passes, the browser deletes these cookies itself.

First-Party Cookies – First-party cookies are small amounts of text stored in a user’s computer that are created by the website the user is visiting. By default, first-party cookies are permitted in every web browser. First-party cookies store a variety of data for the website on that specific user (including preferred language) and can only be used by the site that created them. First-party cookies also store a user’s password and login details for sites like Gmail and Facebook. However, these cookies are only safe on a private, personal device.

Third-Party Cookies – Third-party cookies are created by domains other than the one the user is visiting. For example, when a person visits website.com and browses their pages, website.com creates a first-party cookie. Like most publishers, website.com uses online ads to monetize its content — the third-party advertising provider also creates a cookie (ads.example.net). As these cookies are not created by website.com, but by the advertising provider, they are classified as third-party cookies. Unlike first-party cookies, these can track a particular person beyond the originating site, giving advertisers a better understanding of them and how to best market to them.

Second-Party Cookies – Second-party cookies, a different form of first-party cookie, are relatively new to the internet world. They are created when a website copies the contents of another website’s first-party cookies. These cookies are often created when different companies decide to share their data. You are often informed of such data-sharing policies by respected websites. Accepting these policies means you are fine with a second party storing your information from the original site. These cookies aren’t always threatening. However, users should know what companies are sharing their cookies before accepting anything.

Risk associated with cookies

As an Internet user, it’s wise to understand the risks of cookies so that you can view and delete them when necessary.

Privacy Invasion. For most Internet users, privacy is their primary concern when it comes to Internet cookies. Significant search engines and other advertising platforms track users and use the information to deliver targeted ads. Naturally, many users feel this is a gross invasion of privacy.

Cookie Fraud. With Internet cookie fraud, cookies are used to either falsify the identity of legitimate users or use the identity of legitimate users to perform malicious acts. To avoid fraud, it’s critical to keep your browser up to date, as many cookie scams are designed to capitalize on security holes in outdated browsers. It’s also important to avoid questionable sites and take heed should your browser warn you that a site is potentially malicious. If you have privacy concerns about cookies, adjust the settings on your browser to become more stringent. It is also a great idea to use the private or incognito browsing mode, as this will allow you to browse the Internet without stored cookies.

How to control your cookies

Now that we have a better understanding of cookies and how they are used, we can review the best methods for controlling cookies on your devices thereby allowing you to control your privacy more effectively. 

For cookies that are already on your device, you can clear them yourself. In most internet browsers, within their settings you are able to manually clear your cookies or enable it so that cookies are cleared every time you close your browser. To prevent cookies from being placed on your device in the first place, you can sometimes opt out of third-party cookies within your browser settings or decide what cookies you want to allow on a particular website by interacting with the cookie banner on the site. Certain cookies that are necessary to the site's performance will not allow you to opt out, but other types such as those used for advertising will allow you to opt out.

Conclusion

Cookies aren’t always threatening, but as a publisher, you need to understand and work with them carefully, especially if you use cookies as a part of your website’s monetization. If you use cookies on your site, it’s important to remember to follow applicable laws (like GDPR and CCPA) to ensure you’re being compliant by protecting your users’ privacy rights.