Fresh-baked cookies are yummy, but you may not have the same positive associations with cookies on your computer. Here’s what you need to know about cookies and what they mean for your internet browsing.
A website cookie is a small piece of text the website you are visiting stores on your computer.
Cookies are equivalent to your ticket to get onto the website. Website owners track your individualized code to gather information.
Cookies tell the website that the user has been to the site before. The website can recall personal login information and other preferences. A shopping site will remember your cart and let you continue shopping, or suggest other goods you might like.
So, why are sites asking for permission to store their cookies on your computer? Users are more concerned now about the digital footprint they are leaving on the Web: they want to protect their Web history.
Let’s be clear. When you accept a cookie, you are not allowing access to your computer or any of your personal data, unless you have knowingly provided it as you do when online shopping, that is.
Also, it’s not possible to execute code from a cookie. That means a bad actor can’t use a cookie to deliver a virus or malware.
Overall, cookies on their own are safe. Agreeing to first-party cookies from the website simplifies session management, personalization, and tracking.
The danger comes from third-party cookies generated by advertisers or analytics companies. Say, for instance, you surf to a webpage that has 10 ads on it. You don’t even have to click on any of those ads to generate 10 cookies. These cookies track your browsing history across the Web on any site carrying their ads. That’s why people are becoming more wary of the privacy implications.
Users can make their own cookie choices. Those who allow cookies will enjoy a more streamlined Web surfing experience. Those who don't want cookies tracking their browsing history will opt out. Without cookies these users have to re-enter their data every time they visit a website.
Often you can control your cookies in your browser settings. In Google Chrome, for example, you’d select “Settings” from the menu drop down in the upper-right corner, then “show advanced settings” and then “content settings.” In the Cookies section you might choose “Keep local data only until you quit your browser” and “block third-party cookies and site data.”
If you’re really annoyed by the pop-ups asking you about cookie use, you can install a browser add-on, too.
The “Incognito” mode on your browser can be used to save cookies for the current session, but when you close the browser the cookies will be deleted.