Technology: Are Cookies Bad For You?

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Session cookie: A session cookie is there for, well, the session. Not much to surprise or amaze there. Such a cookie is there for the ‘user experience’ part of a site visit and is destroyed upon leaving, or when your session ends (i.e. you close the browser or shut down the machine). It remembers you from page to page, so you don’t get into a mess when navigating. It’s also useful if there’s a checkout on the site, so you don’t lose your basket contents, for example.

Persistent cookie: Once again, the clue is very much in the name. Normally, these have an expiry – sometimes a year or more – and are used primarily for such mundane tasks as keeping you logged on to your mail or something similar. It can remember preferences, so you don’t have to pick your colour scheme or default language every time you visit. Because they persist, they can sometimes be hijacked by advertisers to track your habits, although this is increasingly uncommon because of the third-party cookie (up next).

Third-party cookie: These are the little rascals that everyone gets excited about.There’s usually nothing to fear, unless you are not a fan of targeted ads for the sort of thing you wouldn’t show your mother. Strap in, herecomes the techy bit. Say you visit a site (www. site-a.com), usually, the cookie name would wholly or partially match the domain name. If there’s an advertisement on the page, supplied by annoying-ads.com, the advert will set a cookie corresponding to their own site. This cookie then hangs around and when you visit a new site, will add another cookie whenever their adverts appear. This way, they can trackwhere you’ve been, how long you were thereand what you looked at, just by reading all the cookies in their name.

This is all very normal, sadly. In these days when ‘monetizing content’ is king, it’s not going to get better. They aren’t harmful as such but you may be concerned over your privacy. In addition to the choices the GDPR give you, most browsers will allow you to block tracking cookies (as they are also known). You may need to install an addon to help but mostly, it’s fairly easy to block them.

The sure-fire way to be safe is to avoid any cookies at all. This can easily be achieved by using the incognito function of your existing browser. The big-name browsers all have this option which is useful if you’re looking for a gift for your wife and definitely not looking at porn. This mode, usually available wherever you’d find the ‘new tab’ option, will open a window that will store no history, cookies, passwords or other browsing data other than files you download.

Have fun out there on the internet and may all your cookies be chocolate chip!