What are computer cookies and how do they work?

Cookies are used on almost every website that we visit. The first time you visit any website is asking you to accept their cookies. The majority of people are unaware of what cookies are. In this post, we’ll go over what computer cookies are, how they work, and why you should be concerned about them.

What are computer cookies

A cookie is a small text file that is stored on your computer or mobile device when you visit a website. Cookies are widely used by online service providers in order to (for example) make their websites or services work, or to work more efficiently,  as well as to provide reporting information.

The different types of cookies

Cookies used on websites can be classified into four categories, depending on their purpose:

Strictly necessary cookies

Strictly necessary cookies are essential in order to enable you to move around a website and use its features. Without these cookies, services you have asked for, such as shopping baskets and e-billing, cannot be provided.

Performance cookies

Performance cookies collect information about how you use a website, for instance which pages you go to most often, and if you experience any errors. These cookies don’t collect any information that could identify you – all the information collected is anonymous and is used to improve how a website works.

Functionality cookies

Functionality cookies allow a website to remember choices you make (such as your user name or the region you are in) and provide enhanced, more personal features. For instance, a website may be able to provide you with local weather reports or traffic news by storing in a cookie the region in which you are currently located. These cookies can also be used to remember changes you have made to text size, fonts and other parts of web pages that you can customize. They may also be used to provide services you have asked for such as watching a video or commenting on a blog. The information these cookies collect may be anonymized and they cannot track your browsing activity on other websites.

Targeting or advertising cookies

Targeting or advertising cookies are used to deliver adverts more relevant to you and your interests They are also used to limit the number of times you see an advertisement as well as help measure the effectiveness of the advertising campaign. They remember that you have visited a website and this information is shared with other organizations such as advertisers. Quite often targeting or advertising cookies will be linked to site functionality provided by the other organization.

Websites may use one or more types of cookie. However, you can choose to manage cookies in your browser settings. If you do this,  you may not be able to take full advantage of all the features on our website.

How do cookies work and why do we use cookies?

A cookie enables the website to remember your actions and preferences (such as login, language, font size and other display preferences) over a period of time, so you don’t have to keep re-entering them every time come back to the site or browse from one page to another.

Most cookies contain a unique identifier called a cookie ID: a string of characters that websites and servers associate with the browser on which the cookie is stored. This allows websites and servers to distinguish the web browser from other browsers that store different cookies, and from devices that don’t store cookies at all. This way, sites can deliver content specific to you. For example, a website might be able to provide you with local weather reports or traffic news by storing in a cookie the region in which you are currently located.

However, cookies can also be used for less benign purposes. Because cookies can store information about your browsing habits, they can be used to track you across the internet. This is how online advertisers are able to serve you ads that are relevant to your interests. It’s also how companies like Amazon and Netflix suggest products you might like based on what you’ve previously bought or watched.

In some cases, cookies are also used to collect sensitive information like credit card numbers and account passwords. This can happen when you’re entering this information into an unsecured website or if you’re using an insecure Wi-Fi connection.

In short, cookies are a double-edged sword: they can be used to improve your online experience, but they can also be used to track and exploit you. That’s why it’s important to be aware of what cookies are and how they work.

What can you do about cookies?

If you’re concerned about cookies, there are a few things you can do to manage them.

Most web browsers such as google chrome, Mozilla and Microsoft edge allow you to view, control and clear cookies and browsing history from within the browser’s settings. For example, in Chrome you can go to Settings > Advanced > Privacy and security > Content settings > Cookies.

You can also install browser extensions that block cookies altogether. Ghostery and Privacy Badger are two popular options.

Finally, you can set your browser to send a “Do Not Track” signal to websites, which tells them not to track your online activity. Note, however, that this option is not universally respected by websites and service providers.

At the end of the day, cookies are here to stay. But by understanding what they are and how they work, you can take steps to protect your privacy and safeguard your information.

How long do cookies stay on my device?

Session cookies last only for your online session and disappear from your device when you close your browser. Persistent cookies stay on your device until their expiration date (unless you delete them before).

Conclusion

Now that you know what cookies are, what they do and how long they stay on your device, you may want to decide which cookies to allow and which to block. You can use the information above, together with the cookie consent notice on our website, to make an informed decision.

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