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Computer Cookies: What are they?

Can you explain what Computer Cookies mean?

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Computer cookies or HTTP cookies are small text files that have a distinct identification tag left by a website visited by someone from a PC. These files contain various information such as pages navigated on the website and information provided by a user to the site. These cookies are beneficial to both website operator and user and are intended to make browsing as seamless as possible. However, there are people who are cautious about them since the information being collected and how they are used are not made known to most users.

Types of Cookies

  • Temporary
    • These cookies are also called session cookies and automatically removed when a user closes the browser. They work by selecting bits and pieces of browser cache memory so that information is retained within the session. This is demonstrated in an e-commerce website upon adding items to your cart and finally checking out without having to go through a checkout for every item. When the browser is closed, all information is lost and you will have to start over with all the information needed.
  • Permanent
    • These are also known as persistent cookies and are stored in the user’s local memory until deleted or replaced when the same website is revisited. These cookies can last for years and allow easy recognition of a user who frequently visits the same site. A text file with a distinct identification tag is dropped to the hard drive of the user at the same time that it retains a similar file in the server. Every time a user visits the site, the browser will retrieve this file for the website so it can pull up the matching file, making browsing faster.

Use of Cookies

The most basic function of a cookie is to store information about a website visit, particularly the dates, pages visited and duration of the visit. When the website is revisited by the same user, information about this new visit will be stored into the same cookie. When personal information is provided to a website, it automatically creates an “anonymous” identification label and therefore the entire profile. This process allows websites to check for visitor trends. Through the years, permanent cookies have produced unforeseen purposes like web profiling.

Many advertisers have taken advantage of how cookies work. Third party cookies are being passed on to visitors which allow monitoring of a user’s activities from one site to another and stores detailed profiles over time or even years. Specific profiling applications are then used to analyze the collected data such as age, sexual orientation and even income level. It all depends on the amount of surfing done and which websites are being visited.

Because of the complaints received in this unseen profiling using cookies, browsers are now incorporated with the function to turn cookies on or off sometime in 1995. Users are now able to manage how they want to use cookies and can just allow those from sites that they deem purposeful. Third party cookies have a separate control system since they are typically set up by advertisers. 

Are Cookies Harmful?

If cookies are used the way they are intended to be, they are not. They make browsing as flawless and efficient as possible and can make lives easier for both website operators and users. Only when cookies are used to monitor a user’s activity on the internet can they become a reason for concern because some consider this a breach of privacy and the use of the information collected questionable. However, each visitor now has the option to choose which cookies to allow or not the same way that social networking sites provide privacy settings to its users. A lot of websites also detail their cookie process in their privacy policy for reference.

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