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What Are Internet Cookies? : Types & Uses of Cookies

    What Are Internet Cookies and how to use them - Softwarecosmos.com

    Internet cookies, also known as browser cookies or tracking cookies, are small text files that websites place on a user’s computer or mobile device when they visit. Cookies serve a variety of purposes, from saving login information to tracking user behavior. But how exactly do internet cookies work, and are they safe? This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know about Internet Cookies, so please keep reading!

    What Are Internet Cookies?

    Internet cookies are tiny files, usually, letters and numbers, downloaded to your device when you access certain websites. Cookies are created and placed by the websites you visit, not your browser. They contain data unique to your visit, enabling sites to remember information between pages.

    For example, cookies can remember your login credentials, so you don’t have to re-enter them on every page. They help sites recognize if you’ve visited before. Cookies, also called web cookies, allow websites to collect data about your usage patterns.

    Cookies set by a particular site can only be read back by the same site. They cannot be accessed by other sites. However, some cookies follow you between websites for advertising and tracking purposes.

    What Are Internet Cookies

    How Do Internet Cookies Work?

    Here is the basic process of how internet cookies function when you visit a website:

    1. You access a website for the first time.
    2. The website’s server sends a small text file called a cookie back to your browser along with the webpage content you requested.
    3. Your browser saves this cookie file, usually under a designated cookies folder. Future requests to the same site can now include this cookie data.
    4. When you navigate to another page on that site, the browser re-sends the cookie to the server. This allows the site to “remember” you between pages.
    5. The server can use the cookie data to personalize your experience, track your behaviors, save login status, and more.
    6. When you leave the site, the cookie remains saved on your device, along with an expiration time set by the site.

    This process allows cookies to provide state management and continuity across website browsing, which is non-connected. Without cookies, sites would have no memory between page visits.

    Main Types of Internet Cookies

    Main Types of Internet Cookies - Softwarecosmos.com

    There are several classifications of internet cookies based on their purpose and function:

    Session Cookies

    Session cookies are used only for a single browsing session. They help you use the website during one visit but are deleted when you close the browser.

    Some examples of how session cookies are utilized:

    • Temporarily store items added to a shopping cart while visiting an e-commerce site. When you close the browser, the cart is empty.
    • It keeps you logged into a web app or service while actively using it during that session. But you’d have to log back in on your next visit.
    • Maintaining preferences like volume controls or dark mode on a site just while browsing in that window.
    • Tracking your current progress or scores within quizzes, surveys, and other web tools on a page if not completed in one session.
    • Saving form data like searches or filters used on a site so they remain applied as you navigate pages until you close the browser.

    Session cookies enhance the user experience during a window of active site use. However, they do not persist long-term across multiple visits.

    Persistent Cookies

    Persistent cookies remain saved on your device between multiple browsing sessions over a set period of time. The website sets their expiration date.

    Some ways persistent cookies are leveraged:

    • Saving your login credentials so you stay logged into a website whenever you return over multiple visits rather than needing to sign in again every time.
    • Remembering personalization choices like your preferred language, location, color theme, or content filters to persist across site usage sessions.
    • Tracking user behavior over time to identify browsing patterns, interests, and characteristics for analytics or advertising profiles.
    • Maintaining continuity for interactions that occur over multiple visits, such as completing a long survey or onboarding flow.
    • You can retain the contents of your shopping cart if you don’t finish purchasing in one session and want previously selected items saved for your next visit.

    The key difference between session cookies and persistent cookies is that they continue executing their purpose across multiple browser sessions over time.

    First-Party Cookies

    First-party cookies come directly from the primary domain of the website shown in the URL bar that you are directly interacting with. For example:

    • If you visit softwarecosmos.com, any cookies set during your time on that site are first-party cookies from example.com’s own domain.
    • These could include cookies to save your sign-in status, customize site content, track your visits over time, and enable core site functionality.
    • However, if you then click over to another site like example2.com, that site could not access or read example.com’s first-party cookies saved on your device.
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    First-party cookies generally pose fewer privacy concerns since they originate from sites you choose to interact with directly. They serve necessary functions for signed-in services and personalized experiences.

    Third-Party Cookies

    Third-party cookies come from domains different than the website shown in the URL bar that a user is browsing. For example:

    • If you visit example.com, cookies set by advertisers, social networks, and analytics services with different domains would be considered third-party cookies.
    • These could include cookies from ad networks, Facebook/Twitter buttons, Google Analytics, or other external services that example.com uses and allows to set cookies.
    • Third-party cookies are mainly used for cross-site tracking of users, targeted advertising, social media integration, and web analytics.
    • Unlike first-party cookies, users do not interact directly with the external services setting these cookies.

    Third-party cookies frequently raise privacy concerns because they can track users across multiple unrelated sites without direct user interaction.

    Main Uses of Internet Cookies

    Main Uses of Internet Cookies

    Some common uses and examples of how both first and third-party cookies are leveraged:

    Personalization

    Cookies allow sites to store user preferences like:

    • Selected themes and color modes
    • Default language and region settings
    • Notification and cookie consent preferences
    • Display name and avatar choices
    • Reading preferences like text size and layout

    This enables a customized experience.

    Analytics

    Cookies help services like Google Analytics compile data on:

    • Pages visited and usage flows
    • Click tracking on buttons, links, ads
    • Scroll depth and attention metrics
    • Source traffic and visitor demographics

    This insight informs site optimization.

    Authentication

    Cookies remember user logins status and session data like:

    • Login credentials and identity
    • Authentication tokens and session IDs
    • User permissions and roles
    • Temporary one-time access passes

    So users stay logged in across site pages.

    Marketing

    Ad network cookies perform functions like:

    • Retargeting users based on sites visited
    • Building interest profiles for targeted promotions
    • Tracking conversions and attribution
    • Serving personalized recommendations
    • Delivering relevant advertisements

    This powers digital advertising.

    Social Media

    Cookies from social media buttons enable:

    • Single sign-on with existing social accounts
    • Sharing site content back to social platforms
    • Targeting site visitors with social network profile data

    This helps integrate social features.

    Site Features

    Cookies help enable key site experiences like:

    • Preserving shopping cart and wishlist contents between sessions for purchases spanning multiple visits.
    • Remembering a user’s progress through multi-step flows like surveys, quizzes, polls, and applications to allow completion over time.
    • Saving personalized settings like volume controls, notification preferences, and content filters specific to individual user accounts even when signing in from different devices.
    • Segmenting users into test groups such as for A/B testing new features. Persistent cookies identify test buckets between visits.
    • Allowing interactions with rich site applications like voting, live commenting, search filters, virtual workshops, and other dynamic tools.
    • Pre-populating forms with saved user information like names, addresses, and contact details when creating new accounts or making purchases.

    Cookies thus support a wide variety of compelling website experiences.

    Security

    Cookies help with safeguarding user accounts and site security through functions like:

    • Session cookies temporarily store authentication tokens with expiration times to validate user identities between pages.
    • Persistent login cookies remember users across sessions without needing to re-enter credentials repeatedly.
    • Cookies facilitate two-factor and multi-factor authentication by storing identity validation.
    • Cookies help mitigate CSRF (cross-site request forgery) attacks.
    • They assist with detecting and blocking suspicious bot traffic versus legitimate human visitors.
    • Cookies set by security tools like web application firewalls identify and remember suspect IP addresses and activity across sessions.
    • DDoS protection cookies track and filter malicious traffic flooding a site with junk requests.

    While cookie data can pose risks if leaked, cookies themselves promote many vital site security capabilities.

    Performance

    Cookies help optimize page performance through tactics like:

    • Caching static site assets like images, CSS, and JavaScript in cookies so they load instantly on subsequent pages without fresh server requests.
    • Queuing non-critical resources until after the page renders for faster initial loads.
    • Storing rendered HTML fragments in cookies for faster assembly on return visits instead of rebuilding from scratch.
    • Scheduling unnecessary content updates like ads to fetch only during browser idle time using background cookies.
    • Recording page load metrics and diagnostics for ongoing optimization.

    Cookies thus make sites lighter and faster for users.

    Consent Tracking

    Cookie banner notifications require tracking acceptance:

    • Consent cookies store a user’s preferences around allowed cookie types and uses.
    • Analytics cookies measure consent notice interactions like impressions, clicks, opt-in/opt-out selections.
    • Consent cookies sync permissions across devices and sites sharing policies through third-party services.
    • Expiration dates enforce when users must re-consent as required by regulations.
    • Consent cookies manage revocation of permission or cookie deletion requests.

    This facilitates compliance, even when using cookies to do so.

    GDPR and Cookies

    The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) impacts how sites operating in the EU can use cookies and process user data. Key requirements include:

    • Clear opt-in consent is required via notice banners for any non-essential cookies. Implied consent is no longer valid. Users must explicitly agree.
    • Consent requests must use plain language explaining the purpose of cookies, data usage, and impact on privacy.
    • Users must be able to refuse cookie consent without detriment beyond losing functionality strictly tied to declined cookies.
    • Consent applies only to the specific purposes disclosed to users. Data cannot be repurposed without renewed consent.
    • Users can revoke cookie consent anytime, requiring sites to delete associated data. Consent is not permanently binding.
    • Sites must indicate on cookie banners which specific cookie types or categories are optional vs required for service functionality.
    • Cookies related to legitimate interests like security and fraud prevention do not require opt-in consent.
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    GDPR leveled up privacy requirements for EU cookie usage and consent based on transparency, purpose limitation, and explicit opt-in approval.

    CCPA and Cookies

    The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) introduced new privacy rights for California residents:

    • The right to know what personal data a site has collected via cookies and other means.
    • The right to delete this data upon request, including requiring cookie deletion.
    • The right to opt out of the sale of personal data like that gathered by tracking cookies.
    • Sites must provide notice of these CCPA rights and methods to exercise them.

    While CCPA does not require cookie consent banners, it does compel sites to disclose cookie-based data collection and honor user requests to delete this data or halt its sale.

    EU Cookie Law

    Current EU cookie law under the ePrivacy Directive:

    • Requires sites targeting EU users to obtain informed consent for cookie usage (except strictly necessary functional cookies).
    • Specifies notices must provide information about the cookies’ purposes and the controller entity.
    • Mandates the ability for users to withdraw consent at any time.
    • Limits cookies’ purpose validity to only what users were informed about and consented to.
    • Allows browser privacy settings to communicate user consent in lieu of notices.
    • Permits member states flexibility in implementation methods beyond just banner notices if preferred.

    The EU has stricter cookie notice and consent standards than other regions to protect user privacy.

    Cookie Policies

    Cookie policies are privacy policy documents outlining a website’s practices regarding their use of cookies. Effective cookie policies clearly disclose:

    • The specific cookie types utilized (first-party, third-party, session, persistent, etc)
    • The purposes each cookie category serves (analytics, personalization, advertising, etc)
    • Any third-party services setting cookies on the site
    • What data each cookie type collects about users
    • How the cookie data will be used
    • How to control cookie settings, opt-out where applicable, or request data deletion
    • Whether the site utilizes cookies is subject to regulations like GDPR or CCPA

    Cookie policies promote transparency so users understand exactly how sites utilize cookies to inform their consent decisions.

    Are Cookies Safe? Risks and Considerations

    Cookies set by the sites you directly interact with are generally safe and serve necessary functions like preserving login state. However, cookies also come with some risks and security considerations:

    Internet Cookies

    • Third-party tracking cookies from advertisers, analytic services, and social networks can compile detailed records of your browsing history and digital footprint when found across multiple sites. They raise the most privacy issues.
    • Cookie data can sometimes unintentionally reveal or leak private information about users to third parties. This data may not be properly secured.
    • Large cookie files can provide vectors for malware or slowing browser performance.
    • Outdated persistent cookies may pose security risks if sites don’t properly expire them when no longer needed.
    • Users with shared or public computer accounts could have their cookies viewed or stolen by others for identity theft.
    • If a site you use is hacked, account login cookies could be compromised and used to access your account improperly.
    • Buggy cookie implementation on sites can open up vulnerabilities like session fixation attacks.

    While cookies themselves are not inherently dangerous, poor security practices like transmitting unencrypted data or not expiring cookies timely can amplify risks. Users should be thoughtful about what cookies they allow.

    Browser Cookie Settings

    All major browsers provide controls to limit or customize cookie behavior:

    Browser Cookie Settings - Softwarecosmos.com

    Block All Cookies

    Completely blocking all cookies prevents any sites from setting or reading cookies. This has a strong impact:

    • You will be logged out of sites and have to re-enter credentials each visit.
    • Personalization like themes or language preferences, will be lost.
    • Many sites will break entirely without cookies to enable things like shopping carts.
    • Interactivity like commenting, voting, or saving progress will fail.
    • Media and animations relying on cookies will not load or play.

    Total cookie blocking provides the highest privacy but largely breaks the modern web. It is not recommended for general browsing.

    Block Third-Party Cookies Only

    This allows cookies from sites you directly visit but blocks third-party cookies from advertisers, social media, ad networks, and other off-domain parties.

    Benefits include:

    • Reduced cross-site tracking and stronger privacy.
    • Faster page loads by blocking external resources.
    • Cleaner, less cluttered browsing experience without invasive ads.
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    However, some site functionality may be impacted:

    • Social media buttons and feeds will not work.
    • Media from third-party providers may not load.
    • Personalized advertising will revert to generic ads.

    This strikes a balance for cookie privacy without full disruption.

    Clear Cookies When Closing Browser

    Deleting session cookies when closing the browser automatically resets sites each visit.

    Effects include:

    • Logging out of sites when browsing sessions end.
    • Losing any temporary interaction data like form entries or carts.
    • Enhanced privacy by not retaining active cookies between sessions.

    But it also means:

    • Needing to re-login to sites more frequently.
    • Losing any personalization done during a session.

    Automatically clearing session cookies provides privacy while allowing convenience within a browsing session via cookies.

    Delete Stored Cookies

    Manually clearing your cookie storage removes all persistent cookies websites have set:

    • Logins and personalization will be reset to default states.
    • You will appear as a brand new visitor to sites.
    • No past browsing data will remain accessible to sites.
    • It can provide a “fresh start” privacy-wise.

    However:

    • You will need to resave preferences and re-login everywhere.
    • Customized experiences will need to be reconfigured.

    One-time cookie deletion gives you a blank slate if you want to eliminate all past cookie footprints.

    Site-By-Site Permissions

    Configuring permissions on a per-site basis allows granular cookie control:

    • Always allow cookies from trusted or necessary sites.
    • Always block cookies from known cross-site trackers.
    • Block third-party cookies but allow from visited sites.
    • Clear cookies after each session only on specific sites.

    This provides flexibility to customize cookie handling for privacy without a blanket approach. However, configuring preferences site-by-site requires more management.

    Cookie Consent Notices

    Many sites now display cookie consent notices or banners requiring you to approve their cookie practices. These stem from regulations like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aiming to improve cookie transparency.

    However, many cookie consent notices have drawn criticism for:

    • Vague wording not explain how cookies are used.
    • Making rejecting cookies difficult or nearly impossible.
    • Steering users toward simply accepting cookies rather than making informed choices.
    • Serving as a liability shield for sites more than meaningfully protecting privacy.

    While consent notices reflect a step forward, push for clearer explanations from sites on why cookies are needed and what exactly they collect. Do not blindly click “Accept All” without understanding the privacy tradeoff.

    How to Delete or Block Cookies

    How to Delete or Block Cookies - Softwarecosmos.com

    If you want to remove existing cookies or prevent new ones, here are your options:

    Delete Current Cookies

    Using your browser’s settings to delete cookies removes any currently stored on your device, including:

    • Login and personalization cookies will be wiped – you’ll be logged out everywhere.
    • Cookies storing site preferences, search filters, or shopping carts will be reset.
    • Any third-party tracking cookies will be deleted, resetting your cross-site data trail.
    • Analytics services will lose your visit history and need to re-identify you as new.
    • You’ll have a clean slate regarding sites knowing past activity about you.
    • You can also use software like CCleaner to clear cookies on your laptop or computer, including internet browsers.

    Manually clearing cookies gives you a fresh start at the cost of losing login and customization convenience.

    Block Future Cookies

    Adjusting your browser’s global cookie permissions can restrict future cookies:

    • Blocking third-party cookies prevents cross-site tracking while allowing site functionality.
    • Blocking all cookies provides privacy but breaks many sites.
    • Smart Blocking using an allowlist lets you configure exceptions.
    • Session-only blocking expires any new cookies at the end of a browsing session.

    Blocking rules prevent new cookie data from being stored while still permitting current ones until deletion.

    Use Private Browsing Modes

    Private modes like Incognito or Private Browsing:

    • Allow normal site use during a session but don’t save any cookies afterwards.
    • Useful for one-off sensitive activities like purchasing gifts.
    • Messaging and map searches won’t persist across windows.
    • Can bypass some soft site paywalls.
    • Downside is needing to re-enter logins each time.

    Private browsing provides in-the-moment privacy without impacting regular use by keeping cookies isolated to that window.

    Install a Cookie Manager

    Advanced cookie browser extensions like Cookie AutoDelete:

    • Provide granular whitelists and blacklists for cookie control.
    • Automatically purge cookies from specified sites on tab close or on a set schedule.
    • Delete cookies older than a configured duration.
    • Isolate cookies on a per-site basis for enhanced privacy.
    • Give visibility into cookie tallies and detailed metadata.

    Opt-Out of Tracking

    Many advertising platforms provide opt-out tools to block their cookie tracking:

    • Effectiveness varies based on company practices.
    • Most opt-outs only apply to that specific ad network. Others persist across multiple platforms.
    • Opt-outs may need to be repeated regularly due to cookie expiration.
    • Benefits reduced ad targeting, but ads remain present.
    • Quicker than configuring browser settings but more narrow in scope.

    Tracking opt-outs offer a convenient but limited way to restrict ad network cookies.

    Conclusion

    Internet cookies are pieces of data stored on your device by websites you visit to remember information between pages and across multiple sessions. They serve purposes ranging from personalization to analytics to tracking.

    Cookies provide many beneficial functions like preserving logins and site preferences. But third-party advertising and tracking cookies present rising privacy concerns users want more control over.

    Adjust your browser’s permissions and leverage tools like private browsing modes and cookie deletions to find the right balance for your needs. While cookies make the modern web experience possible, be thoughtful about which ones you choose to accept.