What Are Cookies?

Cookies are text files that are downloaded onto your computer by websites. They can collect information relating to your browsing activities and online preferences, enabling websites to analyse your behaviour and tailor their pages to your interests. They can also store personally identifiable information, such as your name, date of birth, e-mail address, telephone number, and home or work address. However, they can only do this if you freely supply them with this information.

Types of cookies

Cookies can be ‘temporary’ or ‘persistent’, depending on the length of time over which they will remain on your computer. Temporary cookies, also known as session cookies, are stored throughout the duration of your website visit and are deleted from your computer when you close your browser, while persistent cookies are saved on your computer for a fixed period and are not removed from your computer when you close your browser.

Cookies can be further categorised into two main types: first party and third party cookies.

First party cookies

First party cookies are downloaded onto your computer by the website you are visiting. They do not tend to pass information from one website to another.

Third party cookies

Third party cookies are downloaded onto your computer by a third party organisation. For example, the website you are visiting might use an analytics company who will set their own cookie to track your browsing activity. The website you are visiting may also host content embedded from other third party companies, such as video or picture hosting sites, and these sites may store their own cookies on your computer.

The benefits of cookies

Cookies can be used in a range of ways. However, it is important to remember that cookies are not malicious; they will make your website surfing experience more seamless, and will help websites to run with greater efficiency. Online shopping, for example, would not be possible without cookies, as you would not be able to log-in to a website or benefit from a personalised web browsing experience.

Most modern websites download cookies onto your computer, and it is unlikely that you will notice these cookies working away in the background as you move from one website to another. As EU law requires all websites that use cookies to seek your permission before they store and retrieve data relating to your browsing habits, most sites now seek to draw your attention to their cookie use when you first visit their home page. If you choose to agree to a website’s cookie policy, you will still be able to remove the cookies that have been stored on your computer by cleaning out your browser’s cookie cabinet.

The drawbacks of cookies

While cookies are, in many ways, essential, there are concerns about their use. Many websites feature advertising banners, and these advertisements may place third party cookies onto your computer. These cookies record the types of advertisements you see and click on as you browse webpages, and the advertising companies can use this information to build up a comprehensive profile of all your likes and dislikes, enabling them to produce advertisements tailored to your personal preferences.

If you wish to prevent advertising companies from creating targeting advertising campaigns based on your browsing history, you can choose to opt out of receiving advertising cookies by changing the settings of your web browser. Almost all modern web browsers enable you to control your computer’s handling of cookies. This includes the ability to prevent cookies from being stored on your computer.

 

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