When clearing your browsing history, you might’ve seen an option to clear the cookies. This might’ve spiked an interest on what it is and how a computer cookie works. You get asked whether to allow cookie by websites all the time.

By saying internet cookie, what it’s referring to is an HTTP cookie. It’s nothing more than a text file generated by a server of the site you’ve visited. Cookies contain information in the form of a name-value pair and is stored locally on your device. Sites can store multiple pairs on a single file.

An Example

For instance, when you visit amazon.com, the web server of amazon generates a main user ID, an ID for each session and the time when the session started. This file is sent to you. Session is the current visit and the actions you’ve taken on the site. In case of amazon, it might be the adding an item to the cart or searching for a group of products.

Cookies are then sent back from you to the servers if you connect to the site again. If for example amazon views your unique ID from the file, it will view the past activities on the past sessions.

You might then be recommended items that you searched for beforehand. Suppose you turned on the dark mode on a news site. The site will remember this action and when you visit again, it’ll already have a dark mode enabled. This makes the web browsing experience a bit more personalized.

Types of Computer Cookies

Cookies carry out important little tasks in the web and can roughly be divided into there types.

There are authentication cookies are the mostly used by web servers to know if the user is logged in or not, and which account they are logged in with. This is necessary otherwise the site would not know whether to send a page containing sensitive information, or require the user to authenticate by logging in.

The security in such situation depends both on the server and the user computer. There is possibility for hackers to gain access to these information.

Session cookies are temporary cookies that memorize your online activities.  Since websites have no sense of memory, without these cookies, your site browsing history would always be blank.  In fact, with every click you would make, the website would treat you as a completely new visitor. Web browsers normally delete session cookies when the user closes the browser.Web browsers normally delete session cookies when the user closes the browser.

Online shopping is a good example of session cookies. When you’re shopping online, you can check-out at any time.  That’s because session cookies track your movement.  Without these cookies, whenever you would go to check-out, your cart would be empty.

The next type is the tracking cookies also know as third party cookies, which are commonly used to collect long-term records of individuals’ browsing histories and again a potential privacy concern that prompted European and U.S. lawmakers to take action in 2011. European law requires that all websites targeting European Union member states gain “informed consent” from users before storing non-essential cookies on their device.

Using incognito browsing especially in public places does help keep privacy a little bit.

Are Computer Cookies bad ?

Though intended for good, computer cookie have been used to exploit your privacy. When you visit a site, you’re provided with a page filled with ads. The problem is, even such ads can contain cookies. Because of this, ad companies can keep track of the activities you’ve done on the sites where they have their ads being displayed. They are not virus or spyware but just a bunch of info.

Since cookie is a text file, it’s not possible to execute a code form it. So, there’s no risk of a cookie delivered virus infection. But you have to be aware that your web activities are being tracked by Ad companies to be used to target tailored ads which may look invasive or you might go, “how do they know this?”.

Cookies are here to stay, so you can now be aware of which sites to allow when it asks to store a cookie. I would say don’t worry about it because you Facebook profile is more revealing than a cookie.

3 Things to do to be safe:

  1. Delete you cookies from browsers once in a while.
  2. If you want to be extra safe, only allow sites that you would share info like geo-location etc to create cookies either as they happen or by changing browser setting.
  3. Use an antivirus software (a free one is more than sufficient)

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