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What is an Internet Cookie?

Hello everyone and welcome back to my to another week of my (hopefully) informative blog posts. With Christmas just round the corner we wanted to stick to theme and present you with a slightly more festive topic. As always I hope you enjoy reading my posts and please feel free to share, like and comment below as all feedback is appreciated. Also let me know if there are any other topics you would like me to cover. Now without further ado, lets get into it!

The new age of the internet can certainly be confusing. A lot of times I find myself in a Indiana Jones type situation where I have to crack a secret code or hieroglyph by having to figure out what the newest acronym means or better yet, having my kids explain to me that Facebook is no longer called ‘Facebook’. Its all very confusing and makes you wonder how we got here and how far we will continue to go. One of the biggest phenomena (at least in my opinion) was in 1994 when a man by the name of Lou Montulli created what we today know as ‘Cookies’ (still feels bizarre to say).

A cookie or HTTP cookie first really became mainstream around the 2011’s when in the EU the e-Privacy Directive changed the law around cookies in the European Union. It was around this time that it became important for all website owners to make sure that they were communicating with visitors about their cookies/cookie policy and allow you to accept/reject it. A ‘HTTP Cookie’ or ‘Internet Cookies’ are used to track, personalize and save information about each users own experience on a website. A cookie will take information about your session (session means how long you spend on a website) and save it to your web browser. This makes it so that when you visit websites in the future it will have saved date from previous sessions to streamline your experience on the website and make it easier for you. Now that is in a perfect world, we all know that some people misuse technology and even worse handle our data in ways we do not want. However that doesn’t make cookies bad or scary, it just means we need to understand better what a cookie actually is supposed to do and how we can navigate our way around that to make sure we are being safe online. Naturally this is were I come in to help with that.

Here’s how cookie are intended to be used:

  1. Session management. For example, cookies let websites recognise their users and their own personalized sessions on those websites so you can see more things that are related to what interests you.

  2. Personalization. Customized advertising is the main way cookies are used to personalize your sessions. You may view certain items or parts of a site, and cookies use this data to help build targeted ads that you might enjoy.

  3. Tracking. Shopping sites use cookies to track items users previously viewed, allowing the sites to suggest other goods they might like and keep items in shopping carts while they continue shopping.

Since the data in cookies doesn't change, cookies themselves aren't harmful. They can't infect computers with viruses or other malware. However, some cyberattacks can hijack cookies and enable access to your browsing sessions. The danger lies in their ability to track individuals' browsing histories.

Cookies and GDPR

The GDPR doesn’t directly impact cookies. In fact, cookies are mentioned in only one place: in the preamble or recitals section of this enormous law. However, the GDPR does require in general that “unambiguous consent” be given when collecting data.

In this case, the data being collected is a web cookie and so now requires, under the GDPR, an explicit click on an accept button to gain true consent from the user.

Cookies can be an optional part of your internet experience. If you so choose, you can limit what cookies end up on your computer or mobile device.

If you allow cookies, it will streamline your surfing. For some users, no cookies security risk is more important than a convenient internet experience.

Here’s how to allow cookies:

  • Find the cookie section — typically under Settings > Privacy.

  • Click the boxes to allow cookies. Sometimes the option says, "Allow local data.”

  • If you don’t want cookies, you can simply uncheck these boxes.

Removing cookies can help you reduce your risks of privacy breaches. It can also reset your browser tracking and personalization.

Removing normal cookies is easy, but it could make certain web sites harder to navigate. Without cookies internet, users may have to re-enter their data for each visit. Different browsers store cookies in different places, but usually, you can:

  • Find the Settings, Privacy section — sometimes listed under Tools, Internet Options, or Advanced.

  • Follow the prompts on the available options to manage or remove cookies.

Before removing cookies, evaluate the ease of use expected from a website that uses cookies. In most cases, cookies improve the web experience, but they should be handled carefully.

In the future, you can anonymize your web use by using a virtual private network (VPN). These services tunnel your web connection to a remote server that poses as you. Cookies will be labelled for that remote server in another country, instead of your local computer.

I hope this has been somewhat helpful in helping you understand not only what a cookie is but how you can feel a bit safer navigating online. Remember cookies themselves are not bad or evil so there is no real reason to be worried. The new digital age will continuously bring forward new ways in which to better your experiences online. Just remember there are always options for you to control what data you have out there and how you want that data to handled.

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