You can't avoid encountering cookies when you click on a website. Many just press "accept all" when asked to agree to cookies. But what are you actually agreeing to? Below we explain what cookies are so you can be more aware of what you are allowing them to do and what functions they have.
The ingredients in cookies
You might be wondering what cookies actually are. They are on pretty much all websites: you can accept all, necessary or reject them completely. There are pros and cons to it all.
Cookies are data files that are stored in your browser. They are at the core of many of the technical features of websites, so they are not a dangerous feature to agree to.
Cookies actually serve multiple purposes on the websites you click into. Data files help to ensure that a website works as it should, that the graphics are good, and that, if you're shopping online for example, that your stuff stays in your basket while you browse further on the site.
Another thing that perhaps more people know is that cookies personalise advertising and marketing - targeting it to you and your preferences. This could be language settings or similar settings you make on different websites.
There are two basic functions that cookies perform:
- They track the user's behaviour on the website
- They optimise the experience for the user with preferences and settings
Once cookies have been accepted on a website, it will remember preferences and settings. Therefore, the next time you visit a website, it will have the same settings as when you first visited it and set your preferences.
Cookies therefore remember your history in the browser and can recognise the websites you are on and the settings and actions you took on that website.
Companies are subject to privacy policies that disclose what data they collect and the purpose of the data collection. In addition, they are also obliged to disclose how the data is processed. This should create transparency between the company and the visiting user.
The two different cookies
Basically, there are two different types of cookies used by companies. These are session cookies and permanent cookies.
- Session cookies are stored and used for as long as a user is on the website. It is a "session" that is in progress. However, as soon as the user leaves the website, the session ends and all cookie data is deleted as soon as the browser is closed.
Session cookies also control a user's movements on a website, by keeping track of whether they need to log in or whether they continue shopping. But if a user closes the browser with the online bank, for example, they have to log in again when they open the browser.
- Permanent cookies are cookies that the browser remembers. This means that your device, such as your computer, tablet or phone, remembers that you have accepted cookies on this website. This type of cookie is stored for a while and your device remembers your settings and preferences - even if you close your browser.
This type of cookie is typically used to compile statistics on user traffic, so that companies can see the user's movements on their website.
In addition to the two main types of cookies, there are also first-party cookies and third-party cookies.
- First-party cookies are the cookies that often keep track of login details and shopping baskets.
- Third-party cookies are cookies used for statistics and analysis of user traffic on websites. Here, a third party often pulls in the data for analytics, marketing and personalising ads and content to your preferences.
You don't burn yourself on cookies
Cookies collect information such as:
- IP address
- Login and passwords
- Browser and language settings
- Page views
- Privacy settings
- Purchase information
Although they collect data that may be personally sensitive, you shouldn't be worried about cookies being used to hack information about a user or from their devices. Cookies also do not contain dangerous software.
Many websites, such as Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, also have a "share" button where you also indicates its activity on the website - here companies can see your activity across the websites that have the same button.
That way, ads can be better targeted to you because they can see which pages you're on. If you read a second time before pressing "accept all", you'll see that you can often say yes to different kinds of cookies. These include for marketing and technical functions. If you say no to them, you also opt out of personalised ads from the websites you are on.
Therefore, you should consider the purpose of the website you are visiting before either rejecting or accepting cookies. This will improve your cybersecurity, as will your awareness training.
Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.