Everything you need to know about website cookies
When navigating the internet, your web browser will often store on your device certain data associated with websites you have visited in order to make your experience more convenient and efficient. This data is saved as small text files known as cookies. In this article I explain how cookies on website work, how to deal with them, and why it is important to be mindful about cookies.
What are website cookies?
Website cookies are small text files that are stored on a user’s computer or mobile phone when they visit a website. They store information related to the website, such as session details, user’s activity and preferences. Cookies can help websites recognize a returning visitor and information related to previous visit.
How website cookies are used?
They are used by the website to remember certain information related to the user, such as their preferences, login details, and browsing history. This allows the website to remember the user’s activity and choices, such as what items user added to a shopping cart, form field information, or even the time of last visit. This way websites can provide a more personalized experience for their visitors, including tailored content and ads.
The types of cookies used on websites
Cookies used by websites today can be categorised in four main types or categories based on their characterystics. Those are:
- session cookies,
- persistent cookies,
- first party cookies, and
- third-party cookies.
Let’s look bit deeper in each of them.
Session cookies are pieces of data that are stored temporarily in a computer’s memory during a browsing session. When the user closes their web browser, the cookie will be deleted. They are commonly used for tasks such as remembering what items website visitor added to an online shopping cart or verifying login credentials when the user returns to the website.
Session cookies are essential for website functionality, allowing users to have quick access to information they previously provided. They help to bridge the gap between separate browser sessions, ensuring that a user’s preferences remain constant during their online activities. As websites become more complex and intricate, session cookies play an ever-increasing role in helping them move from page to page efficiently and securely.
In addition to these practical benefits, session cookies are also used for tracking purposes, such as analyzing website usage or gathering demographic information. However, their unique attributes can also lead to potential security risks, as session cookies are easily deleted when the browser is closed. Taking these factors into consideration, it is important for website operators to ensure that session cookies are adequately protected to prevent misuse and exploitation.
Persistent cookies, on the other hand, are stored locally on a computer’s hard drive and remain valid until their expiration date arrives. They are useful for creating customized user experiences by remembering log-in details and preferences such as language selection and product filtering. Persistent cookies may also be used to track visitors across websites, allowing advertisers to better target potential customers with tailored advertisements.
Persistent cookies are a necessary evil in the age of digital convenience. On one hand, they enable websites to provide a personalized user experience, mitigating the frustration of having to re-enter login credentials or choose language preferences every time you visit. This is especially good for those who wisit the same websites often, granting them an effortless and efficient browsing experience. On the other, persistent cookies can be used for nefarious purposes such as tracking visitors’ movements across websites and targeting them with tailored ads.
While these activities do help to keep businesses afloat, it can come at the cost of privacy and security. For this reason, it is important to keep tabs on the type of cookies being stored on your machine and ensure that they come from trusted sources.
First party cookies
First party cookies are digital markers that a website creates and stores on the user’s device. These cookies store information about the user’s browsing activities, such as which pages they have visited, what products they have viewed, and whether or not they have completed a purchase.
The primary purpose of first party cookies is to enable websites to remember certain settings or activities in order to enhance the user’s experience. For example, when a user visits an ecommerce store for the first time, the website may set a cookie so that it can recognize them later on. This cookie contains information about their activities, such as what items they added to their shopping cart, when they last accessed the site, and where they were browsing before visiting that particular site. With this information, the website can make improvements based on what products users are viewing and add personalized recommendations and special offers tailored to their interests.
Third-party cookies are a type of cookie that are used to track users’ online activity across different websites. They are created by outside companies, such as advertising networks, to collect data about the user’s browsing habits. Third-party cookies can be used for a variety of purposes, such as ad targeting and analytics. For example, an advertising network may use third-party cookies to monitor which websites a person visits and show them targeted ads based on their browsing history.
Similarly, an analytics company may use third-party cookies to measure website traffic and gain insights into user behavior. Although they can bring some benefits, third-party cookies raise privacy concerns since they let companies to track people without their knowledge or consent. Some Internet browsers have taken steps to limit the use of third-party cookies, switching to first party cookies, or offer users an option to opt out of tracking altogether.
Is data in cookies anonymous?
No, not necessarily. In some cases, though data stored in cookies is anonymous, but the very nature of cookies allows companies to connect data to a particular user. Cookies are designed to store certain information about a user’s browsing habits and this information can be tracked and used to create a profile of that particular user.
Furthermore, this data can be stored over time so that a company can build up an extensive profile of the user’s behavior. So, though the data stored in cookies may seem anonymous on its own, it can ultimately be used to identify a particular user when combined with other data points and analysis. So the data stored in a cookie is not always anonymous.
How you can block or delete website cookies?
You can block or delete website cookies on your computer by changing the settings in your browser. Most browsers will let you to change the settings so that all cookies are blocked, or you can choose to be prompted when a website attempts to send you a cookie. Also, most web browsers offer built-in settings that allow users to specify what types of cookies they do and don’t want to accept from websites they visit. For instance, in Firefox you can choose how long individual cookies will stay on your system before they are automatically deleted while in Chrome you can block or allow various types of cookies based on their source.
To delete existing cookies, you can access the browser’s privacy or security settings and delete individual cookies from the list of stored cookies. It is also possible to set up your browser so that it deletes all of your stored cookies each time you close it. This will prevent any new websites from placing tracking cookies on your computer as long as the browser is closed. Most of browsers also provide an option to delete all existing cookies at once if you want to start fresh or make sure no tracking is allowed when visiting certain websites.
There are also several third-party cookie management tools available online, such as those offered by Google, which users can download for free onto their computers and manage their cookie permissions with more granularity. Third party tools allow websites to store cookies and user data securely on external servers, in a process known as cookie syncing. This means that the website does not have to track users across multiple sessions and can instead rely on an external source to store the data collected. By using this process, user data is kept confidential and secure, while still enabling the website to collect analytics and personalize content for their users.
Also, third party tools provide advanced features such as granular control over which cookies should be stored and whether or not they will be shared with other websites or entities. Furthermore, these solutions often offer built-in protection against malicious code or privacy violations programmatically so that websites can ensure full compliance with applicable laws and regulations while managing their user’s personal information.
Cookies on your website
As a website owner, why should you be concerned about cookies?
As a website owner, you should be concerned about cookies because it may impact user experience in several ways. For example, cookies can be used to track users across different websites, allowing advertisers to target them with personalized ads. Furthermore, if your website is not properly configured to protect user data stored in cookies, it can lead to serious security issues where hackers can gain access to sensitive user data stored within the cookies.
Furthermore, if a DPA discovers non-compliance with any relevant laws or regulations, it has the power to issue fines or sanctions against the non-compliant website owner. As such, it is essential for website owners to stay up-to-date on all relevant regulations and strive to comply with them in order to avoid any negative consequences.
How to manage your website cookies?
- Understand what types of data each third-party service tracks via cookies. Different services track different types of data, such as search terms used on your website, pages visited and time spent on each page, IP address information, etc. It’s important to know exactly what kind of data is being collected so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not to allow it to be tracked.
Without understanding, users can be exposed to potential dangers such as their personal data being shared without their knowledge, or experiencing intrusive ads that do not align with their interests. Also, a lack of management of cookies can lead to slow loading times and degraded performance on websites. Understanding website cookies and managing them properly is essential for both user safety and optimized user experiences on websites.
Understanding how different types of cookies work and which ones to accept, reject or block ensures users stay safe online and get tailored experiences on websites when appropriate. As technology continues to advance and evolve, it is important that users stay up-to-date on best practices in cookie management so they can get the most out of the internet safely.
Furthermore, website owners should take an active role in understanding cookies and how to properly manage them on their websites. Not only does this help protect user data, but it can also increase the speed and performance of a website by limiting the amount of unwanted or unnecessary cookies. Taking the necessary steps to ensure users understand how to manage cookies can lead to better user experiences overall, including enhanced privacy and improved website loading speeds.