Internet Cookies: What Are They, And What Are Their Uses?

Cookies help sites, among other things, to remember you, your connections and your shopping carts. These are small text files that websites automatically save in your browser when you visit. Essential elements for navigation make it possible to offer more personal and more practical site visits. While crucial and mostly safe, cookies can also become a treasure trove of private information for criminals.

What is a cookie?

The cookie is a small piece of text that sites send when you browse. Automatically registering on your computer is intended to recognize you and store specific information about you. This can be login data, language preference, etc. The goal is to prevent you from re-registering each time you visit.

Cookies can be essential for the proper functioning of a site. This is particularly the case of authentication cookies used to know whether the user is logged on to the site. If the user is logged in, they let you know with which account. The site can then determine which parts of the site the Internet user can access.

Being only text files, cookies can contain anything you want to put there and be used for many purposes. Created by the server during your connection, the data stored in a cookie is marked with a unique identifier for the user and his computer. Also, when the cookie is exchanged between the latter and the server, the latter will then read the ID. Thus, he knows exactly what specific information is going to be served.

Note that the majority of cookies that are installed on the user’s computer belong to third parties. These will be used to identify you as a consumer to set up more targeted marketing.

What are their features?

Developed as a service, cookies are intended to provide websites with memory. The objective is to simplify the interaction between the site and the user and strengthen the user experience to make it more intuitive. Important elements of the Internet experience, cookies can be served in different ways:

  • Session management: Cookies allow websites to recognize users and remember their connection information. Cookies are also used to collect information about the user and his online activities. Thus, the website can follow its browsing actions. Including which articles he takes the time to read, which ones he prefers to ignore, etc. As a result, user data is quickly becoming an increasingly valuable resource. The sites then use increasingly sophisticated methods to collect them.
  • Personalization: Cookies allow you to personalize your sales. Thanks to them, the user can view certain elements or parts of a website. By using your data collected by a cookie, the company can then build targeted advertisements. Making life easier for the user on the Internet by personalizing the user experience allows your favorite websites to recognize you.
  • Thanks to them, the website is presented in a specific way to the user. The aim is to provide suggestions tailored to their interests and needs. Cookies also save the time and effort of the user. In particular, by protecting data so as not to re-enter them each time.
  • Monitoring: Cookies are especially useful for shopping sites. They are used in particular to track the articles that you have consulted. This way, they can suggest other products you might like. The more data companies have about their users, the better they can target them. Thus, they can sell them products and maximize profits.

Also Read: 10 Alternatives To Google Analytics

What are the different types of cookies?

Depending on their duration and their origin, cookies can be classified into one or other of the following categories:

  • Session cookies: These are temporary cookies that expire as soon as the user leaves the site. Online stores mainly use this kind of cookie. In particular, to keep in memory items that the user has placed in the basket during the same shopping session.
  • Permanent cookies: These are cookies that remain on the user’s hard drive for some time after their session has ended. Permanent cookies retain data such as connection information, contact details and account numbers. This type of cookie is intended to prevent users from re-registering this data each time the site is used.
  • Internal cookies: These are cookies created by the sites the user accesses. Generally, they are used to allow the site to remember the user’s data and preferences.
  • Third-party cookies: These are cookies set by a site other than the one the user has accessed. For example, Facebook’s “like” button on another site would activate a cookie that Facebook can read. Often, the purpose of this type of cookie is to collect certain information intended for information. Including user behavior, demographic data for targeted marketing purposes, etc.

How long does a cookie last?

The cookies each have a name and an expiration date. When a website sends it, it asks the user’s browser to keep it. In particular until certain dates and times by what is written in the text file. The law requires that these be removed at regular times.

In France, the CNIL or Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés recommends that cookies have a maximum lifespan of 13 months. Thus, the consent to cookies must be renewed. However, some cookies keep for much longer.

From a textual point of view, you should know that there is no limit to the duration for which a cookie can be programmed. This is particularly the case of Google Adwords, which has cookies that can last up to 540 days. Note that there are even cookies that are programmed to last over 7,000 years.

It should be noted that cookies are an optional part of the user experience on the Internet. If you wish, it is possible to limit them on the computer or on a mobile device. You are advised to delete cookies to mitigate the risk of privacy breaches.

Note that deleting normal cookies is easy but may make some sites difficult to navigate. Browsers store them in different places, but usually, they are listed in the setting section. Deleting tracking cookies and more malicious cookies requires the use of internet security software.

You can also anonymize your web use by using a virtual private network or VPN. This is a service that tunnels Internet connections to a remote server that masquerades as the user. Thus, cookies will be tagged for that server in another country instead of your local computer.

Are cookies dangerous?

Cookies are not dangerous since the data stored in them does not change. Therefore, cookies do not affect computers with viruses or other malware. However, some hackers can hijack them and allow access to your browsing sessions.

The danger that cookies can represent lies in their ability to track individuals’ browsing history, such as third-party cookies. They are generated by different websites and are usually linked to advertisements. For example, when the user visits a site containing 10 promotions, these may generate 10 cookies even if they never click on them.

Zombie cookies can also be dangerous. These are cookies from a third party and are permanently installed on users’ computers. And those, even if the latter do not choose to install them. Note that these cookies may reappear even after being deleted.

Zombie cookies were created from data stored in Adobe Flash storage location. These are sometimes called “flash cookies” and are extremely difficult to delete. Like some third-party cookies, zombie cookies can be used by web analytics companies to track the browsing history of unique individuals. Websites also use them to ban specific users.

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