All of us internet surfers have experienced this before, you open a website, and a pop-up message appears asking you to accept the cookie. In this privacy-centric time, one may ask what are these cookies that pop-up when I am opening a website and what risk does it pose when I accept?
Cookies formally known as website cookies or HTTP cookies are a tiny text file that is stored on a user’s computer browser or program subfolder. Cookies normally do not contain a lot of information except for the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) of the website visited, the duration of the cookie’s ability and effects, and a randomly generated number that is used to uniquely identify users.
There are three types of cookies;
- Session cookies: These cookies are created and stored temporarily in your browser’s subfolder while you are visiting a website. They expire or are deleted when you close your browser.
- Persistent/Permanent cookies: These cookies are created and stored in your browser’s subfolder and remain there for the duration, set within the cookie’s file (maximum duration allowed by law is 6 months). They persist even when the browser is closed and re-activate once you visit the website that created that particular cookie.
- Third-party cookies: In most cases, a cookie’s attributes correspond to the website domain they are on. However, for third-party cookies, they are installed by third-party websites. This allows them to track your web activities across multiple websites.
Cookies can also be used to remember registered login details to avoid the need to reinter username and password, they also allow website owners to track exactly how many unique visits they get on their sites irrespective of multiple entries by one user.
Privacy experts share concerns on the use of third-party cookies since it can be used to track the internet activity of users across multiple websites. There are ways privacy-conscious users can deal with third-party cookies;
- Users can change the cookies and tracking settings in their browser.
- Users can install ad blockers or other similar browser extensions.
- Users can use browsers that have built-in ad blockers e.g. Brave browser.
- Users can activate private or incognito mode on their existing browsers.
But all said and done, cookies in general, provide a convenient browsing experience for users and provide much needed analytical functionality for website owners.