Here, Have a Cookie
If you browse the internet, you’ve almost certainly read this statement:
For years, you’ve heard about cookies but may have wondered just exactly what a cookie is and how it works. For some people, cookies leave a bad taste in their mouth (Pun intended.), but in reality, most cookies are harmless.
Cookies are small data files that introduce you to the webserver of whatever website you’re visiting. Also called “handshakes,” it identifies you and helps the website tailor itself to your browsing history. If you’ve visited the website before and shown a particular interest in something, the website will use that information to show you more of that type of file. Some cookies allow you to have websites remember your password so you don’t have to log in each visit (Most social media and e-mail websites use these cookies.). Many cookies continue to carry your browsing history, helping other websites determine your needs and improve your browsing experience.
The fact cookies can share information with websites, basically tracking your movements, is what many people find unpalatable (Pun still intended.). They believe other people can use those cookies to track what they’re doing, which is an invasion of their privacy. The truth is most cookies don’t work that way.
There are actually four different flavors (Pun especially intended.) of cookies, each with its own purpose and functions.
- Persistent cookies are exactly as described: they stay in your system. They have expiration dates anywhere from a few days to several years. Persistent cookies allow you to have a website remember your password or keep an item in your shopping cart between visits.
- Session cookies are shorter term. They stay in your system until you turn off your computer. When your browsing session ends, so does the session cookie.
- Third-party cookies track your browsing history, letting other websites know where you’ve been to help your browsing experience. For instance, say you browse a website looking at furniture, a car, or whatever. If the cookie does not detect you’ve satisfied your curiosity in that item, then it will show up in ads in social media or on other websites for a while to give you a chance to reconsider it.
- Then, there’s the “supercookie” which gives the other cookies a bad name. Where other cookies expire, the supercookie is permanent. It collects your data across all of your browsers and keeps it available for the person who made it so they can collect it. Deleting cookies does not get rid of the supercookie; that requires professional cleaning. The only ways to avoid supercookies are to use an encrypted connection or a virtual private network.