How Types of Computer Cookies Affect Your Online Privacy

How Types of Computer Cookies Affect Your Online Privacy

What if you found out that there were hundreds of cookies hidden somewhere in your house?  Breaking out your inner child, you’d likely rush off to find them.  Unfortunately, these hidden cookies are not ones that you can see, or even eat.  They are computer cookies, and they affect your online privacy.  Here’s what you need to know about cookies, including the different types of computer cookies, and how you can block and delete them. 

What are Computer Cookies?

In their most basic form, computer cookies are text-strings that websites save to your hard disk.  They serve as a memory tool and are able to recognize your online behavior and remember your actions.  While this may sound negative, cookies are actually what makes the World Wide Web work the way it does.  Whether you are online shopping, logging in to an account, or browsing the internet, cookies are responsible for your overall online experience.

Types of Computer Cookies

There are three types of computer cookies: session, persistent, and third-party.  These virtually invisible text files are all very different.  Each with their own mission, these cookies are made to track, collect, and store any data that companies request.

Session Cookies

Session cookies are temporary cookies that memorize your online activities.  Since websites have no sense of memory, without these cookies, your site browsing history would always be blank.  In fact, with every click you would make, the website would treat you as a completely new visitor.

A good example of how session cookies are helpful is online shopping.  When you’re shopping online, you can check-out at any time.  That’s because session cookies track your movement.  Without these cookies, whenever you would go to check-out, your cart would be empty.

Ultimately, session cookies help you maneuver through the internet by remembering your actions, and they expire as soon as you close out of a web page.

Persistent Cookies

Persistent cookies (also known as first-party cookies) work by tracking your online preferences.  When you visit a website for the first time, it is at its default setting.  But if you personalize the site to fit your preferences, persistent cookies will remember and implement those preferences the next time you visit the site.  This is how computers remember and store your login information, language selections, menu preferences, internal bookmarks, and more.

Persistent, permanent, and stored cookies are terms used interchangeably as these cookies are stored in your hard disk for (typically) a long period of time.  The cookie’s timeline will vary depending on the expiration date.  But, once that date is reached, the cookie will be deleted, along with everything you customized.  Luckily, websites prefer to employ a long-life span so that users can make the most of their personal preferences.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies, also referred to as tracking cookies, collect data based on your online behavior.  When you visit a website, third-party cookies collect various types of data that are then passed on or sold to advertisers by the website that created the cookie.  Tracking your interests, location, age, and search trends, these cookies collect information so that marketers can provide you with custom advertisements.  These are the ads that appear on websites you visit and display content relevant to your interests.

By tracking your habits and providing targeted ads, third-party cookies serve a useful purpose for marketers but can seem pesky and intrusive to internet users.  That’s why you have the option to block them.

Your Privacy Options: Blocking and Deleting Cookies

It has been said that privacy on the internet is an oxymoron, but it is possible to remain private online.  Blocking and/or deleting cookies is a great way to improve personal privacy and prevent data tracking.  And, while this method isn’t completely foolproof, the change will have a noticeable impact.

So, what is your best option?  The answer is, it depends.  If you don’t want any cookies on your hard disk, then your best option would be to delete your cookies and then block them through your browser settings.  Merely deleting cookies from your hard disk is unproductive since most websites recreate deleted cookies quickly.  This makes them likely to just reappear the next time you go online.  On the other hand, blocking cookies inhibits websites from directly embedding cookies into your hard disk.  But changing your cookie settings comes with repercussions: your online experience will change.

How? Navigating the web without first-party cookies can be difficult.  Many websites require session cookies and persistent cookies to be active in order to view content, and, without them, you will not be recognized as an individual.  This lack of recognition means you will not be able to shop online and you will have to reset personal preferences on all webpages you visit.  Comparatively, blocking third-party cookies only prevents data tracking and targeted advertisements.  Still, your privacy settings are up to you.

Roughly 40% of internet users block third-party cookies and under 5% of internet users block first-party cookies.  Whether you decide to manage your cookies individually, by type, as a whole, or not at all, your browser settings will always be available if you change your mind.

All in all, different people will have varying opinions on computer cookies.  Some will enjoy the benefits of personal preference and memory, others may feel they are completely intrusive, and the rest will fall somewhere in-between.  Understanding of the different types of computer cookies will help you decide your opinion on these data files.  So, know your cookies and become familiar with your browser settings to craft the online experience that’s right for you.

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