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  • Writer's pictureAnn Cozens

Cookies, to accept or decline? And can I eat them?!

Why is it that every web page I open ask me to accept cookies, even the cookery ones?! What is a cookie anyway and why does my device need them?

I am sure most people have no clue what influence a cookie has on their PC, so I hope this will help you make the decision whether to accept, or decline.

Fun fact! Did you know that the name originates from a Chinese fortune cookie, in that it is a cookie with an embedded message! An internet cookie has just that, an imbedded message that can be held on your device.

HTTP cookies (also called web cookies, Internet cookies, browser cookies, or simply cookies) are little blocks of data or code that are created by the website being visited by the user. If accepted, it is placed on the user's device by browser (eg. Chrome/Edge etc), and more than one cookie may be placed on that device during the browsing session. It may sound a little invasive and indeed originally there were worries about privacy, but they are designed to improve the user experience and deliver more targeted advertising, that is, advertising you are more likely to click on and buy!

Imagine this scenario - you are halfway through ordering your Christmas presents on a shopping website and you have a power cut, you might feel all is lost and you will have to start from scratch. However, once you restart your PC and go back to that website, because of the saved cookies, it likely remembers where you were up to, remembers what was in your basket, so you can just carry on from where you were!

They can also remember information that you may often use such as names, addresses, passwords, and payment card numbers. Sounds unsafe? Rest assured that these pieces of sensitive information are all stored in the background and require re-entering of your password or PIN to access.

Security vulnerabilities (such as out of date or not updated operating systems) could allow a cookie's data to be read by an attacker, used to gain access to user data, or used to gain access (with the user's credentials) to the website to which the cookie belongs. One very good reason to make sure your device is up to date and that you have strong security!

There are other types, but these 3 types of cookie are the most common:

Authentication cookies are commonly used by web servers to authenticate that a user is logged in, and with which account they are logged in. Without the cookie, users would need to log in from scratch on each visit.

Session cookies exist only in a temporary memory while you are navigating its website. When the page is closed, the cookie is deleted.

Tracking cookies, or Persistent cookies expire after a specific amount of time or on a specific date set by the creator and are commonly used as ways to compile long-term records of individuals' browsing histories. This was seen as a potential privacy concern that prompted European and U.S. lawmakers to act in 2011. European law requires that all websites targeting European Union member states gain "informed consent" from users before storing non-essential cookies on their device. Hence the question when you open a site on a browser, and you are requested to accept or decline.

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