All About The Cookie

Cookies, and we don’t mean the ones you can get from your local supermarket (although they are good too). We’re talking about cookies that are found on virtually every website on the internet.

From digital magazines to online shops, they seem to be everywhere!

We have all, without hesitation, pressed “Accept All Cookies” in order to access a website. But what are cookies, and what do they do?

There’s a preconception that cookies are almost like little spies on our computers, monitoring our every move… but cookies are actually beneficial for us when browsing online! But why is this?

What are cookies?

Cookies are small text files, up to around 4KB in size, and they are created by a website. When we press “Accept Cookies”, our computer or whatever device we are using, temporarily or sometimes permanently, stores the text file on a hard disk.

Cookies are stored on our own devices because a web server has no memory [storage].

Cookies typically contain 2 pieces of information: a site name and a unique user ID.

What do cookies do?

When we enter a website, the information we provide through accepting cookies is processed into the text file (cookie) and sent to your web browser, e.g. Safari, Internet Explorer or Google Chrome.

The next time you visit that website, your device checks as to whether it has the correct cookie for that website. If it does, the information contained in the cookie is then sent back to the website.

As the site ‘knows’ you have visited before, it sometimes tailors what content to show you, for example through pop up screens.

It remembers your preferences from when you visited the website before.

Content may be varied depending on whether it is your first time visiting, or your 52nd.

Types of cookies

Session cookies

Session cookies, also called transient cookies, are cookies that are erased from your device when you close down your web browser.

It is only stored in temporary memory and is not retained after the browser is closed.

Session cookies, therefore don’t gather information from your device. The cookies usually also doesn’t contain information that identifies the user.

Persistent cookie

A persistent cookie is basically a permanent cookie, it stays on your hard drive until it expires or until you remove it yourself.

These cookies do collect information on the user, such as web searching behaviours.

This is sometimes why our previous web searches then pop up in adverts later on when we are surfing online.

Why cookies are beneficial

So now we know what a cookie is, and what it does, how does it benefit us as users?

Cookies are basically used to maintain the state of our browsers online. For example, if we add something to our basket, and we go visit other sites, when we return to the original website, because of the cookies, it will recognise what state that website was in before – so all your items will still be there.

Cookies contain loads of website addresses (URLs). So when we visit a particular site, along with the URLs, it also sends all the related cookies.

If we use websites where we have to input usernames, passwords, or other personal information, often the cookies will mean that we do not need to keep inputting this information over and over again on the same website.

Because cookies retain user history, it saves time whenever we visit a website and also allows the website to tailor the pages for us.

This means we may receive information which is actually more suited to us than if we didn’t have the cookies.

Cookies can be very sophisticated – they can be used to record how long you spend on particular pages within a site, even up to your preferences for page layouts and colour schemes.

They make your interaction with websites you frequently visit smoother.

They are small and therefore do not take up much space on our devices.

Cookies can also be used to aid marketing campaigns. They allow ads to be targeted at very specific markets segments, such as product type, geographic location, demographics and the search terms they use.

There you have it. Cookies aren’t scary, and they aren’t necessarily dangerous. Hopefully this helps you understand more about what’s going on when those popups appear!

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