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Internet Cookies

What are Cookies?

What do Cookies Do?

What information does a Cookie store?

Internet Cookies

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What are Cookies?

Cookies were invented in 1994.

Cookies are small text files that a website puts onto your computer via your web browser when you visit it for the first time.  Cookies typically contain two pieces of information the website name and the unique user ID.

Cookies help as for convenience they assist in the ‘remember me’ feature so when you re-visit the website in the future you will not have to fill in your username again as the cookie on your computer will automatically fill this field.

Also cookies help to recognise where you are located for example if you visit a weather website it will show you weather in your area without you needing to give your location details each time.

Cookies are harmless text files your computer will only send your cookie info back to the same web server that created it, they don’t transmit viruses or Trojans, they can’t be used to get data stored on your hard drive. If you want to see your saved cookies on Firefox, click on Tools, got to Options then choose Privacy.  When you click on Show Cookies you will see all the cookies that have been saved to your computer – there is a facility to Remove Cookies and Remove All Cookies.

What do Cookies do?

 Imagine selecting a website that then offers you to select a language, you tell the website that you wish to view the website in English the website then saves that information to a cookie on your computer the next time you visit that website it would be able to read the cookie it saved earlier that way the website can remember your preference and let you view the website in English without you having to select your language again. 

Cookies are not limited to just remembering your language they can contain pretty much any information for example, the time you visited the website, the items you added to your shopping basket, all the links you clicked on the website like leaving a breadcrumb trail on the internet – what is saved to a cookie is up to the website creator. 

There are limits to who can read your cookies – only the same website that saved your information to a cookie can read it so if you visited another website it would not know you wanted to view it in English unless you had a cookie saved from that website too.

How much data can Cookies store?

Since the beginning of cookies the population exploded evolving into a more complex yet essential part of the internet.  The amount of data cookies could contain started to grow to start they contained a few preferences like your language and maybe your preferred layout to view website but soon developers realised that the more information they could store about you the better they could suit your needs.  Cookies starting storing more and more data and pushing their size limitations subsequently developers came up with a clever work around they would simply store a unique ID in a cookie on your computer and save the rest of the data on their own system that way they could save unlimited amounts of data.  The cookie simply serves as an identifier for your computer like a dog identifier so that the website can recognise you and look up your data in their system.  This was the first leap towards so called third party cookies. 

Third Party Cookies

As mentioned only the same website that saved data to a cookie can access it later.  One website can contain bits of another website, these bits and pieces of other websites embedded in the website you are visiting are actually able to access cookies they saved to your computer earlier. For example when visiting a news website as well as news articles many contain advertisements which in most cases are bits of other websites embedded in the news website.  The news website you are looking at may not have saved any cookies to your computer and therefore does not know anything about you – where do the advertisements come from?  It is not unlikely that the adverts on the news website are embedded from the same website as the adverts on another website you visited earlier, in fact you may visit dozens of websites with adverts, which are all embedded from the same website. So what does this mean?  This means that if the website the advert comes from has saved a cookie to your website earlier they can identify and save information about you through other websites so while you are reading an article on the news website, shopping for new shoes, looking up cures for headaches, or reading the latest gossip the adverts on those websites can identify you, look up your information in their system and dynamically show adverts that you are most likely to be interested in whilst simultaneously saving information about what you are doing online.

Cookies good or bad?

So is this a bad thing?  Are Cookies dangerous?  That depends, it is up to creators of a website to determine what information they do and do not store and what they use that information for.

What is Cookie Profiling?

A log of the users activities to facilitate future website visits to your website.

Cookie PolicyDo website viewers like or dislike Cookies?

Generally it is believed that when you view a website if you are asked to agree/allow Cookies this often puts people off viewing the website. 

The adjacent image is an example of a pop up that appears when you first visit a website asking you to accept or not the use of cookies, this image is no longer shown when the viewer agrees with a green padlock sign shown instead at the corner of the website page.

Cookies and advertising

Cookies are used to target website viewers to tailor adverts that are relevant to the individual user.  Cookies are used to find out the browser habits of the individual to match banner ads with their interests. 

Blocking Cookies

The user of a computer surfing the internet via an internet browser can block cookies or delete them at anytime.  If you visit a website that has previously utilized cookies to help with remembering info in your shopping basket and you subsequently block cookies then you will not be able to shop at the website next time you visit.

Cookies and viruses

A concern is the possibility of websites gaining access to cookies placed by other sites.  The spread of viruses has to do with whether or not the file is “excutable” – most cookies are not executable – cookies are stored as text files in general and cannot be of damage or pass on viruses.