STOP! PLEASE ACCEPT COOKIES!

Before you are allowed to navigate the majority of web pages these days, you are hit with the all too familiar “Please Accept Cookies” request. Some of you may routinely deny these requests or even ignore them, however, many web surfers will accept. What are you accepting? What information have you just handed over? In this Blog post I will take you through the basics of Cookies, their meanings, how they can improve your browsing experience and also the risks associated with them.

But first, what are Cookies?

Cookies are a small piece of data from a specific website that is stored on a user’s computer while they are browsing it. This data can contain information that allows the website to:

· Keep track of a user’s browsing activity in order to be able to serve up targeted information such as ads for goods or services specific to the user’s activity. For example, if you are browsing Amazon for a new set of headphones, you may find ads for headphones popping up on your Facebook newsfeed later on.

· Remember your log in details to save the user time when exiting and re-entering sites multiple times a day.

· Keep track of how many unique visitors they have to their site. Each Cookie has its own unique identity number (which will be discussed later) that allows the website to see if it is a returning user or a new user that day.

Where did Cookies come from?

The first Cookie was invented in 1994 by a Netscape employee called Lou Montulli. Montulli created the Cookie to reduce the amount of data that needed to be stored on a shopping website’s server, to remember what items each user had in their baskets. This use of Cookies allowed the basket information to be stored on the user’s computer, saving space on the website’s server, and thus saving the website owner money. The term Cookie came from the concept of the “Magic Cookie”. A “Magic Cookie” identifies when a user logs into a system by passing a tiny bit of information between the server and the computer. This concept was recreated to allow basket content information to be passed from computer to server on online shopping sites.

How do Cookies work?

When you visit a website for the first time, e.g., an online store, the website puts a Cookie on your hard drive that has its own unique identification code. The site then uses this ID to keep track of your session (your “session” being your overall visit on the site from start to finish). The reason it does this is to keep track of things like which items you put in your shopping cart, or which items you looked at so it can suggest similar items or even save things like coupon codes that can be used later even if you exit the site and come back to it.

Third-party Cookies:

A Cookie is only specific to its own website meaning that they cannot track you on a totally different website. However, Third-Party Cookies can be embedded in a websites interface that can be tracking your browsing. An example of this is when you are browsing on a website that has an option to “like” or share something on Facebook embedded into the website. This button has to communicate with Facebook, meaning Facebook can now send their own Cookies through this website in order to track your activity and then most likely present targeted ads to you on the Facebook newsfeed later.

Things like this pushed Europe to introduce GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which allows users to opt out of using them. Cookies can be categorised as “strictly necessary”, “functional”, “performance” and “tracking and advertising” Cookies.

As Cookies are an optional step in your browsing session, you may want to remove or limit the amount of Cookies stored on your browser. This can be done by clearing your Cookie cache under the Settings>Privacy tab on your computer. Although clearing your Cookies may mean your browsing experience is not as streamlined as possible, it may protect your browsing information from being misused through third-party Cookies.

Are Cookies Safe?

Under normal circumstances, Cookies cannot transfer viruses or malware to a computer. This is because when the data is transferred from the website to your computer, the data does not change and therefore cannot affect how your computer runs. However, some viruses or malware can be designed to look like a regular Cookie. These are known as “Supercookies”, and many browsers are able to block this type of virus before it is passed to your computer.

According to André Thompson, the Data Protection and Privacy Counsel Officer of Truata (a data analytics provider),

“These supercookies are able to recreate a user’s online behaviour from data on their internet connected devices — even when browser Cookies are deleted — as the tracking takes place through HTTP headers and not local storage. These trackers can, therefore, abuse local internet caches and connection identifiers to create profiles of data subjects which accepted user privacy behaviours (such as clearing Cookies) cannot combat,”

However, since January 2021, many popular browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari have pledged to block and wipe any supercookies that come into contact with on your computer.

That’s it from me, I hope that this gave an insight into the world of Cookies and how they impact your browsing experience!

Ruth x

References

Cookiebot.com. 2021. GDPR and cookie consent | Compliant cookie use. [online] Available at: <https://www.cookiebot.com/en/gdpr-cookies/> [Accessed 31 March 2021].

GDPR.eu. 2021. Cookies, the GDPR, and the ePrivacy Directive — GDPR.eu. [online] Available at: <https://gdpr.eu/cookies/> [Accessed 31 March 2021].

Itpro.co.uk. 2021. What are supercookies?. [online] Available at: <https://www.itpro.co.uk/security/privacy/358637/what-are-supercookies#:~:text=%E2%80%9CA%20supercookie%20is%20a%20general,internet%20service%20providers%20(ISPs).> [Accessed 31 March 2021].

Us.norton.com. 2021. What are cookies?. [online] Available at: <https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-privacy-what-are-cookies.html> [Accessed 31 March 2021].

Www2.deloitte.com. 2021. Cookie Benchmarking Study. [online] Available at: <https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/nl/Documents/risk/deloitte-nl-risk-cookie-benchmark-study.pdf> [Accessed 31 March 2021].

A series of blogs to delve into the topic of marketing information systems.

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