What are cookies and what do they do?

What are cookies and what do they do?

What are cookies? All you need to know about cookies

When browsing the internet, you’ll probably have noticed a drop-down menu asking you for your cookie preferences. Typically, you’ll be asked to accept or reject a website’s use of cookies. So, what are cookies, and what does it mean for you?
We call them cookies for short, but you may have heard them called HTTP cookies, web cookies, internet cookies, or browser cookies. A cookie is a packet of data that is stored on your web browser and computer, and it allows websites to track visitor's activities, amongst a few other things we’ll explain shortly. For the most part, you shouldn’t fear the use of cookies, but there are a range of reasons why you may or may not want to accept cookies. Let’s take a look.

What does a cookie do?

Cookies do different things depending on the website and the type of cookie used. Before we jump into what a cookie does, we should explain how the use of cookies have changed in recent years.
The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), introduced and enforced in 2018, cracked down on the use of cookies, making the process more transparent and giving more control over data handling to users. Websites now must ask for permission, disclose the presence and purpose of any cookies used.
Typically, when you see the cookies drop-down menu, it should be accompanied by some text describing what the website intends to use the cookies for. From there, you can make a decision whether to accept or reject the use of cookies. It’s worth noting that some websites cannot perform properly without cookies.
For example, if you’re shopping on an ecommerce website, cookies are used to track activities such as adding items to a basket, favouriting items, checking out, and much more. Without cookies, it’d be impossible to shop online.

When you’re logging on to a website, such as Facebook, cookies store your password (safely). In this case, cookies are used to improve your online experience and speed things up, so that you don’t have to keep re-entering your email and password. Some cookies are used for advertising purposes, either by the website or 3rd party advertisers. If you’ve ever visited an online store, then later in the day you see an advert for that product on your social media – cookies are the reason why!

For the most part cookies are a good thing! Their use makes the online experience easier, in exchange for some of your browsing data. However, when should you deny the use of cookies?

When to deny the use of cookies

Whether you accept or deny the use of cookies, the choice is now yours. But what do you need to know about denying the use of cookies? Let’s take a look.
Denying the use of cookies can have some effects on your internet experience. As mentioned earlier, ecommerce websites, and some other websites, can’t function fully without cookies. Denying the use of cookies may affect the functions of the website and the way you use it, limiting what actions you can take. Some websites will deny you access to the website if you don’t accept their use of cookies.

In some cases, you might want to deny the use of cookies if you don’t want your activities to be tracked. For example, if you’re browsing sketchy or untrustworthy sites (indicated by a warning or broken padlock symbol), then you probably shouldn’t accept the use of cookies – if you’re even given the choice. When a website isn’t safe, it means the website is not encrypted, leaving you exposed to outside threats. When browsing such websites, your personal data and cookies could be intercepted or stolen, which cyber criminals can use for their nefarious means.
You may also want to deny the use of cookies when using websites that handle your sensitive data, such as banks, social media, or websites that require ID information, bank details, etc. It’s better being safe than sorry. Even if the website is trusted, encrypted, and safe, data breaches can happen.

Finally, if the website is using 3rd party cookies, you may want to consider denying the use of cookies. 3rd-party cookies are those used by parties that are not the website domain you are visiting and are primarily used for advertising purposes. Whilst they are not harmful, they are sometimes seen as an invasion of privacy. That is why they are being phased out by Google, and as internet users become more aware of how their data is handled, websites are more reluctant to allow their use.

How can I manage my cookies?

Managing your cookies is easier than ever. On your web browser, visit the settings page. From there, navigate to the cookies page, which is typically within the ‘security’ or ‘privacy’ sections. From there, you can see which websites are using cookies and how many. You can also take actions, such as clearing your cookies. Bear in mind that this will often wipe saved passwords and other information, however you may experience faster loading times on your device.

Managing how you’re monitored and tracked on the internet is more important than ever. You may not think it, but your data has value, and websites and hackers may want to steal, store or sell your digital data. If you’re concerned about how your data is being handled on the internet, it may be worth considering a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. To find out more about VPNs, read our insights on VPNs, what they are and what they do.

We hope you enjoyed this blog. If you’d like to contact us for further information about IT and cyber security, you can contact us here.