What are Website Cookies?Vanessa Venugopal
Cookies or Website Cookies are an essential part of our current online activities. It creates a personalized experience for users when visiting websites. It remembers users from their website login, shopping carts, and more. Furthermore, it helps future marketing purposes, improves the site, and detects any misuse of the website.
However, cookies are not all about keeping browsing easy or personalizing content. It has hidden agendas that ordinary users like us are not able to recognize immediately.
So in this article, we will be discussing everything about Website Cookies and how you can keep your data safe from exploiting cookies.
What are Cookies?
Cookies are small pieces of data. It is used by computers or websites to identify the user for browsing improvements and experiences.
The data collected by cookies are created on the server once connected online, and it has a unique ID specific to the user. When connected online, the server reads the ID and gathers the information in it.
They are data files that retrieve stored data. Hence, they have no access to information stored on your device.
What Cookies Do?
Cookies have positive use to both the website owner and the users. As it validates your identity, from page to page, it makes browsing or log-in activities faster and easier. Some improvements that cookies implement are:
- Better customer log-ins
- Persistent shopping carts
- Product recommendation
- Retains information of customers such as address and payment information. It benefits returning customers as they don’t have to input the same data again.
- Custom user interface
Types of Cookies
Despite the good intentions of cookies on websites, there hidden agendas too. Usually, it depends on the type of cookies available on the website. Here are different types of cookies and what they do.
It is the most basic type of cookie. It doesn’t save information or data on the hard drive but most temporary files on computer memory. Therefore, when the web browser is closed, the files are completely deleted. Session cookies have a lower security risk.
It’s common on e-commerce carts or stores.
Unlike session cookies, persistent cookies are not completely deleted once you close your browser. It will be stored, and when you return to the same website, it would know who you are. Persistent cookies track your browsing activities from the site you first visited and to other websites too.
Since persistent cookies are stored for a long time, it has a higher security risk.
First-party cookies are created from a website you visit. In e-commerce websites, it’s used to help users add more than one item to their cart. If the first-party cookie is disabled, every order added to the cart is treated as a new order.
Third-party cookies track users who clicked on an ad. The other term used for these cookies is tracking cookies. These cookies are similar to persistent cookies, but they can access your data from other websites. It is often utilized for targeted advertisements.
These cookies are not able to store personal information, only your online activities. However, stored data about your past purchases, viewing habits, and other activities can be exploited by hackers.
Flash Cookies are a bit difficult to get rid of. It remains on the device even if other cookies are deleted. It is known as super cookies, which are independent of the web browser.
This type of cookie re-creates itself once deleted. Hence, it’s hard to detect and manage like flash cookies. Zombie cookies are used on online gaming sites to prevent users from cheating. However, it can be used to install malicious software onto a user’s computer.
What Information Does A Cookie Store?
Cookies contain a string of text with information from the browser. The information it contains can only remember your browsing activities. However, there are some websites that store personal data. You can encounter such cookies on websites where you have provided your personal information. However, legitimate websites like banks and e-commerce often encrypt personal data to prevent usage by other parties who have access to your cookies.
These are some of the information cookies can store in their server:
- Name of the cookie
- Value of the cookie
- Expiration of the cookie
- Path of the cookie
- The domain that it’s valid for.
- Need for a secure connection.
Are Cookies Safe?
Most people don’t like cookies. They immediately assume that cookies are all bad, it tracks every activities and information. However, it is crucial to remember that not all cookies are harmful. There are cookies that determine their safety. In fact, most websites won’t work well without enabling cookies.
However, there are cookies that can track behavior or activities online. Third-party cookies often collect the activities of users to provide targeted marketing.
You can disable cookies when browsing online. But see to it first that the website would work. As mentioned earlier, some websites require cookies to work.
When are Cookies Dangerous?
Cookies turn dangerous when in the wrong hands. Usually, data in the cookies don’t change and aren’t harmful. They aren’t able to infect computers like viruses, but when fallen into the wrong hands, they can cause harm.
When hackers gain access to these cookies, they’ll have the ability to track browsing histories.
One example of a harmful cookie is third-party cookies. These cookies came from another web page but can track other website activities. Often the cookies are generated from the ads on the particular site. Even though the user never clicked on the ad, it still gives advertisers and analytic companies the data they needed.
When to Allow or Reject Cookies?
As stated earlier, cookies are crucial for some websites to operate. But not all are necessary, and not all are harmful. So, when will you need to accept or reject cookies?
Accepting cookies give you the best experience on a website. When you go online shopping, cookies will keep track of the items you add to your cart. You do not have to log in every time you add an item. So, when you need some features of that website, you should accept cookies. Although some websites automatically accept cookies, you can change the settings.
You can also accept cookies from websites you trust.
Some websites also limit what cookies can end up on your computer or devices. Therefore, you don’t need to share more or store data on your device.
How to Allow Cookies Automatically:
- Go to your browser’s cookies section, usually found under Settings > Privacy.
- Click the box that allows cookies/ Allow Local Data.
- You can click on other options or which cookies you don’t want to accept or block too.
However, there are times you need to reject cookies from websites. Here are some reasons/ cases when you should decline cookies.
- When the cookie popup notification mentions third-party. Never allow websites to exploit your information to other websites or marketing agencies.
- When a website is not secure. If the website doesn’t have a lock icon on the address bar, it indicates that it isn’t secured.
Disabling or accepting cookies depends on the internet browser you use.
Disabling Cookies Depending on Internet Browser
- Click the three-dot icon on the upper-right corner.
- Select Settings.
- Under Privacy and Security, click Site Settings.
- Choose Cookies.
- Select if you want to turn on or off cookies.
- Click on More Action on the top right corner.
- Select Options.
- Select Privacy & Security on the left sidebar.
- Click Custom on Enhanced Tracking Protection.
- Select All Cookies (will cause websites to break) under the Cookies drop-down list.
- Click the three-dots icon on the upper right corner.
- Select Settings > Site Permissions > Cookies and Site Data
- Turn on Block third-party cookies or add sites you want to block on the Block section.
- Open Safari. Go to the top left corner.
- Select Preferences.
- Click on Privacy > Select Block All Cookies.
- Confirm message warning.
How to Stay Safe
The only way to keep your data and privacy safe is to remove cookies from your computer. Removing cookies resets the browser tracking and personalization. You can manually remove cookies from your computer, or you can use internet security software like Kaspersky. It can also get rid of cookies that are difficult to remove, such as zombie cookies and other malicious types of cookies.
We also recommend using a VPN. It will label the cookies to a remote server instead of your computer.
There are also browser extensions available to block cookies, especially third-party cookies. Here are some examples of Chrome extensions to keep your privacy safe from cookies.
- Avast Online Security: Aside from protecting your data from threats, it can also block cookies and tracking ads.
- Disconnect Facebook: An extension that acts as a firewall to block all Facebook-related requests sent to third-party websites.
No matter how you plan to handle your cookies, make sure that you practice the best way to keep your data and privacy always a priority. If you don’t want to accept any cookies, you have the choice to find other websites that’ll function well without the need for cookies.