The Online Experience: Are Browser Cookies Bad for Your Online Privacy?
Have you heard of cookies on the web? Well, if you have, they’re most likely not edible. On the contrary, they can be detrimental to your health, depending on your priorities and level of control over them.
But wait, what is a cookie? Are cookies bad?
In premise, a cookie is a minuscule data point stored on your computer by “each” website that you visit, which improves your user experience, as well as extends the website’s ability to target you as a customer in the future (and more).
In this article, we will cover what they are, what they do, and if cookies are bad. Keep reading to find out what you need to know.
What Is a Cookie?
As mentioned earlier, a cookie is a data point stored by a website on your computer, and it is directly related to your activity on the site (in some cases, off of the site as well).
Cookies are not malicious programs, but rather simple files. They weight about 5 kilobytes on average, which is a speck of unnoticed dust on your memory drive.
In any case, their size does not represent their power. For instance, you are shopping for a bicycle. You went to a website of a bike broker, browsed the models, and then left to check out other websites. Immediately, you might start seeing advertisements for bikes, bike chains, bike seats, handlebars, pedals, etc.
Ever experience this phenomenon? Well, a company can drop cookies around the web, and thus get a good inference on your browsing activity. A combination of these cookies makes up a great target for advertisements and personalized experiences.
How Does a Cookie Work?
When you visit a website, it deposits a variety of cookies on your computer, in the location that is pre-determined by the computer. Some of these are first-party, they come from the domain you are visiting, such as domain.com or whatever. Primarily, the cookie is used to store images for the next visits to make your loading experiences faster, especially if you are going through different pages with the same website elements (such as the header).
A first-party cookie that is left by the website owner carriers information like whether or not you logged in. They might have also recorded a general location to provide the appropriate currency and language, as well as what is placed in your cart.
But how is this information used? Well, each time you visit a website, your browser sends a request for the files that it needs to display. Along with this request, comes a copy of each cookie coming from the domain. The browser will send cookies left by domain.com to domain.com, while otherdomain.com gets the cookies left by otherdomain.com.
Cookies are not permanent and they can expire when you close the browser (some of them can stay for months at a time) When you visit the site back the next week, the browser will send copies of the retained cookies. That’s how the website knows who you were, and what you’ve done the last visit.
First-party cookies are an integral part of a website’s ability to provide a service to you.
Are Cookies Bad?
We’ve only covered first-party cookies so far. But during your website visit, there is a chance of other companies depositing their cookies as well. How does that happen though?
Well, each website is made up of files and lots of code. Many of those files come from the website provider. But other elements, such as social media buttons, forms, ads (so on and so forth) come from other entities.
For instance, many of the ads that you see are devised by DoubleClick, subsidiary to Google, so let’s use them for example. When you see an ad on a website, it’s very likely that it is coming from a general domain of DoubleClick.com. Alongside this visual ad, a cookie is deposited.
So next time you visit any site that has elements from DoubleClick, your browser might send a copy of the cookies stored by the entity. If you visit lots of sites that have embedded DoubleClick code/content, your browser will be supplying these companies with a healthy chunk of cookies (lots of data).
But DoubleClick is the only an example out of the many companies that might be providing elements and features to a website. And all of them can leave cookies as well.
That’s how the internet practically knows what you’re looking for when you’re looking for and what’s best for you to find (based on advertising mechanisms, such as bidding, targeting, etc).
There’s a big difference between first-party and third-party cookies, and although they are not bad, they can be if you let them. They serve a purpose, and if you feel you can live without it, and don’t want a personalized experience, keep reading to learn how to clear and prevent cookies.
How to Clear Cookies
You may or may not mind having cookies. After all, it can be quite useful to see ads for items you are looking for. But if you choose to block them and only let first-party cookies, you can do this. Not only will this remove the personalized experience, but limit the data that companies can collect and store on you.
The first thing to do is to ensure you know the passwords that you use for sites that automatically login for you. This is most likely because your device has an authorized cookie with your password. It can be useful, but after deleting cookies, you will be prompted to login each time.
The cookie hold is large and should be emptied out completely time from to time. It’s like a piggy bank. Remember that after you do this, your web experience will be a little inconvenient, as you will have to enter passwords, update settings, and more.
Here’s how to clear online cookies:
Navigate to the Settings/Preferences tab of your browser at the top right corner. Find a Clear Browsing Data selection, or go to Privacy & Security.
Now select one (depending on browser): Cookies and other site data; Show Cookies; Manage Website Data. Then you will be prompted to clear the browsing data, which you can do by clicking a single button.
For more, click https://setapp.com/how-to/clear-cookies and learn the steps you need to take.
How to Prevent Cookies
And the next step is to block third-party cookies while allowing first-party cookies to work. Most likely the option is in the same menu as the cookie clearing selection, so check there.
There should be an option to Block Third-Party Cookies or Use Custom Settings for History or Content Settings. These options can be found in the Privacy section of your browser.
Cookies Done Right
Now that you the answer to the question of “Are cookies bad?”, you are well on your way to take a little bit more control over your web experience. In any case, whatever you choose to do, you have your reasons for it and that’s all that matters.
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