Http cookies (to give them their full title) are small text files that include data to identify you as you look around a website or further afield—over the entire Internet. Your cookies are stored in the web browser of your computer or device. Although it sounds a little invasive to have files planted on your computers, phones, and tablets, without them, you wouldn’t be able to use most websites as you’d expect to.

For example, without cookies, online shopping would be a nightmare, and every website that automatically remembers who you are on subsequent visits, couldn’t!

What are cookies used for?

For the most part, Internet cookies are used to track each user’s behaviour and remember their preferences.

Consider how much information an eCommerce website holds while you carry out your shopping. It remembers all the items you want to buy, those that are currently in your shopping cart, the products you’ve looked at, the preferences you’ve checked, where you are, how long you’ve been shopping—it even remembers that you’ve been shopping with them before if you come back at a later date.

And it isn’t just for your online shopping. All kinds of websites need cookies to help. Weather websites use cookies to remember your location, so you don’t have to navigate to your town or region every time. I’m sure by now you’re starting to see just how valuable these little bits of text really are.

The list below shows how cookies are used for different tasks, saving you effort and preventing frustration, making your web experiences far simpler and more efficient.

·         Essential cookies – The most basic cookies, storing only the data required to perform a website’s essential functions.

·         Performance and functionality cookies – While not essential to the website’s operation, they enhance the user experience with added functions.

·         Web analytics and customisation cookies – These trackers provide information to website owners, so they can see where traffic comes from, how their site is being used, and which parts are the most popular.

·         Advertising cookies – These cookies customise the ads shown to users as they look around each website, presenting items dictated by your browsing habits.

·         Social network cookies – These cookies allow you to share information from websites on your favourite social media platforms.

Are cookies safe?

For the most part—yes. We need cookies to enjoy the Internet as we do. However, there will always be those who want to abuse opportunities to gather our data for less than appropriate means.

Types of Internet cookies

There are many different types of cookies: magic cookies and http cookies, session cookies, persistent cookies, third-party cookies, first-party cookies, and a whole load more—almost too many to list.

They all do slightly different jobs, as you’ll see below:

·         Session cookies – These are temporary and removed when you close your web browser.

·         Persistent cookies – These cookies remain on your system far longer, even after you close your browser. These are the cookies that remember your settings and actions from the previous times you visited that website.

·         First-party cookies – The website you visit places its cookies into your browser, and these are your first-party cookies.

·         Third-party cookies – If a website includes ads or features on their site by another provider, they, too, can plant cookies in your browser. These are third-party cookies and tend to track behaviour over all the sites you visit. They’re generally advertising cookies but can be considered for use in more questionable means.

The dangers of cookies and what to look out for

Some providers take liberties with what data they would like to pull from your system and how they use it. Online security systems protect us from almost all serious issues and safeguard our most sensitive personal data. The data gathered from cookie use delivers more of a privacy rights debate than the sort of problems you’d suffer from hacking, phishing, and malware.

Throughout Europe, GDPR protects users by making the website owners warn you of all the cookie operations you’re susceptible to, and to plant them, you must accept their terms.

How to manage your cookies

All website browsers allow you to control your cookie use, sometimes removing them automatically and at others, allowing you to delete cookies manually (if you feel something amiss is happening in your system). Blocking third-party cookies is a standard setting in all browsers, as that’s one area where the risk of abuse is higher.

You’ll find your cookie settings in each of the following browsers as follows:

·         Google Chrome: Settings > Show advanced settings > Content settings

·         Firefox: Main menu > Options > Privacy

·         Microsoft Edge: Settings > Advanced settings

·         Safari: Preferences > Privacy

How to delete cookies

·         Google Chrome: Settings > Show advanced settings > Clear browsing data

·         Firefox: Advanced settings > Network

·         Microsoft Edge: Choose what to clear > Clear browsing data

·         Safari: Advanced > Show develop menu > Develop > Empty caches

Your browser should also provide you with a list of the websites that have placed cookies in your browser. If you’d like to trawl through these to find the suspicious players—good luck—it’s usually a very long list!

Use private browsing for a clean-slate cookie-free experience!

If you’re concerned about cookies and want to keep them to a minimum, try using a private or incognito browser window. You’ll start every session in a cookie-free environment and delete any cookies you’ve gathered when it’s closed!

Why cookies can be dangerous

Some of the cleverest minds work in the most illicit ways, so it’s imperative developers shut down any problems that could occur through cookie use.

There are considerations into cookie fraud, man in the middle attacks, cross-site scripting, and cross-site request forgery, all of which need to be protected against and have links to cookie use.

What are the cookies on Google?

We all give Google access to so much of our personal information, so it’s important we trust how they use it. Google uses almost all of the cookies we’ve talked about, as without them, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as helpful a tool as we need it to be. Whether we’re a casual browser or a web developer, Google knows what we need and helps us get the best service in the most efficient ways possible.

When it comes to Google, we primarily think of advertising, but that’s only the start. Developers use analytic tracking; shopping sites rely on their remarketing trackers; and of course, we all depend on their authentication and security cookies to protect us and keep our online experiences safe.

What are the cookies on my phone?

Your phone works in a similar way as your computer, laptop, or tablet. The apps you use work as self-contained websites, and the same tracking systems are in place to make your experiences as simple and straightforward as they can be.

If you operate a web browser on your phone, then conventional cookie use comes into play, tracking you over your entire web journey.

However, because each app operates in a separate environment, their cookies are completely contained—private to their own spaces. This has caused cross-app tracking to become one area that the developers are working hard to overcome.