What are cookies?
By now, everyone has heard the term “cookie” and understands that unfortunately, this does not always mean a delicious treat.
We will be discussing the computer cookies, also known as HTTP cookies, web cookies, internet cookies, browser cookies or even magic cookies. These types of cookies are essentially tiny data files that are exchanged between the website server and your device.
The first HTTP cookies were supported and used in 1994 by Version 0.9beta of Mosaic Netscape, where the cookies were used for checking whether visitors to the Netscape website had already visited the site.
Cookies are essentially little pieces of code, small data files that are placed on your device when you visit a website. The cookie files are saved in a file inside your browser and that way; the website will recognize it’s cookies the next time you go on that website and note you as returning visitor.
The information that is inside the cookie is very much like a username and password that the website will use to identify your device. This information is generated by the server when you first connect, and a unique ID is placed inside your cookie.
The cookie gets exchanged between your device and the server every time you connect to the website, so the server will know it’s you. For example, HTTP cookies can be used to personalize and improve the users browsing experience.
Difference between Magic Cookies and HTTP Cookies
There are two main segments of Browser cookies:
Magic cookies refer to the older original version of the cookie. It refers to the data files that are exchanged without any changes applied to them. This is typically used to recognize returning visitors as it can act as a login for internal networks.
HTTP Cookies are the new and improved version of the Magic cookie.
Unlike the Magic Cookie, the new version was specifically created for internet browsers to track, personalize and save information about user sessions and actions on site.
The HTTP cookie has now become a popular tool to manage our users browsing experiences.
What Do Cookies Do?
Cookies play a big part in modern browsing and make it possible to have a smooth, streamlined experience where websites remember our passwords, and we can shop online.
You have ever wondered how websites remember your login details? – yep, the answer is cookies!
Or how the shopping cart remembers the items in it when you navigate different pages in the site? – Yep, cookies again! Without the cookies, you would need to rebuild your shopping cart again if you accidentally close the page.
The HTTP cookie purpose is to keep track of the users’ website activity.
Here are the main tasks cookies are intended to do:
Session Management – The cookies identify the user to the website on each visit, recalling their logins and preferences. For example, a streaming site would use these cookies to keep a record of whether the user prefers to watch horror or comedy and suggest relevant shows based on that.
Personalisation – Cookies play a significant role in customized advertising. Information is stored on which items a user has been viewing on a website. This data can then be used for a Retargeting campaign.
Tracking – Helps to keep items in shopping carts while users continue shopping. Similar to personalisation, these cookies also record information on the items previously viewed, to help suggest similar products in the future.
What are the different types of HTTP Cookies?
HTTP cookies are divided into two main groups; Session cookies and persistent cookies.
Session cookies only exist in real-time; they are used only while the user is active on the website. These cookies are never saved to the hard drive as they are stored in random access memory. They are automatically deleted when the session ends. Session cookies help maintain user privacy; they also help functions like “back” to work.
Persistent cookies are saved on the hard drive. Some remain there forever, but many also have an expiration date and get automatically deleted once expired.
Persistent cookies are mainly used for the following tasks:
- Authentication cookie checks if the user is logged in and under what name.
- Tracking cookies collect information of all the users’ visits to the same site. This can also include the pages and products viewed, letting the merchant know of the users’ potential interests and target them for specific campaigns and products.
Potential dangers of Cookies
Typically cookies themselves are harmless and can’t transfer any viruses or malware. This is mainly because the data inside the cookies is unchanged. Therefore it can’t affect your device in any way.
There are two scenarios of how cookies can be a threat:
- Malware and viruses can be disguised as cookies.
- Your cookie information can fall into the wrong hands.
Here are some cookies to watch out for:
First party versus Third-party cookies
First party cookies are generated directly by the website you are browsing, and these cookies are generally relatively safe.
Third-party cookies, however, are more complex and allow unknown third parties to see your actions on the website. They are generated by other websites that are linked to the site you are browsing via ads. If you are on a website with multiple ads, each of those can generate a cookie even if you never click on them.
These cookies help ad companies track users actions to measure the performance of their ads.
As of 2021, Google and most other browsers will discontinue supporting Third Party Cookies, eliminating the threat they bring and changing the world of digital marketing.
Read more about the effects of this in eBrochures’ article about digital trends for 2021.
Sometimes called the Flash cookies, because they were created for Adobe Flash. Zombie cookies are incredibly aggressive and permanently install themselves to users computers even when opted not to install cookies. They are challenging to remove as they can reappear after being deleted.
Zombie cookies are similar to third party cookies in terms of functionality; web analytics companies also use them to track users browsing histories. Because of their permanent status, Zombie cookies are also used to ban users.
How to Manage Your Cookies
To manage cookies, you need to open your browser and access the Privacy settings, as most browsers store cookies under Privacy options. You will see a variety of options for managing your cookies.
Try to find an option that allows you to limit third-party and tracking cookies. This is a suitable medium for helping to protect your privacy while not limiting your browsing experience too much.
To clean up the current state of your cookie situation, you may consider using some internet security software and do a proper clean up for your system to get rid of the more permanent malware types of cookies.
It is a good practice to clean up your cookies often and possibly consider using a VPN to keep your browsing experience secure.