Essential guide to internet cookies

14 Oct 2022

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What are cookies?

If you spend a lot of time browsing the web, chances are you’ll have seen a message about cookies pop up on your screen. Unfortunately, this isn’t an offer for free baked goods. Put simply, cookies are files containing small pieces of data. This data is then used to gain information about you, the user, so that a website can provide a more personalised browsing experience. Cookies are most commonly used for login information or to track which other websites you visit.

Are cookies dangerous?

So, are cookies dangerous? Since they collect and store your information, it’s normal to be a little wary about accepting cookies. However, cookies themselves are typically not dangerous or harmful to accept. As long as you’re visiting an encrypted website, your data will be safe and you won’t be downloading a virus. The only time that cookies might be dangerous is if a hacker has compromised them, but this is pretty rare. To stay safe, only accept cookies on sites that are professional and that you trust with your data. You probably wouldn’t take a batch of homemade cookies from a dodgy looking guy on the street – the same applies when browsing the internet.

Why are internet cookies called ‘cookies’?

The term ‘cookie’ in this context was derived from fortune cookies, because they’re cookies with an embedded message. It was coined by programmer Lou Montulli, who’s well known for his work on early web browsers. Although the name can be slightly confusing, cookies have been used to pass data between computer programs for years. Apart from the derivation of its name, internet cookies sadly have nothing to do with baked goods.

What information do cookies store?

Cookies will typically contain two key pieces of data: the site name and a unique user ID. However, they’re also widely used to gather personal information such as your name, address, email, and phone number. These are usually to help make logging in easier, but they can also be used to personalise your experience. For example, if a business has multiple locations, they might use cookies to show the location that’s closest to you. If you’re a frequent online shopper, websites may also use cookies to remember what purchases you made so that they can recommend more relevant products.

Don’t let this put you off – cookies will only collect your personal data if you allow them to. So, if you don’t want a website to collect your personal information, you can choose to reject cookies upon entering the site.

Different types of cookies

Cookie walls

A cookie wall is similar to a normal cookie pop up, however it doesn’t offer the option to reject cookies. Instead, it lets you know that the site is not accessible without the presence of cookies.

Session cookies

Session cookies are temporary and only last while a user is browsing a website, expiring when a user closes the web browser. Essentially, these cookies only last during your browsing session – hence the name.

Persistent cookies

A persistent cookie has an expiry date that’s set by its creator, meaning it won’t expire in the same way that session cookies do. These cookies will expire after a specific period of time, and will track a user’s activity every time they visit the website that the cookie belongs to.

These cookies are sometimes called “tracking cookies” because advertisers can track a user’s browsing habits over an extended period of time. However, persistent cookies also mean that you don’t have to put in your login details every time you return to a website.

Secure cookies

Secure cookies may only be transmitted via an encrypted connection such as HTTPS. This means the information stored in the cookie is much safer from online attacks. Secure cookies massively reduce the risk of cookie theft, which is when a hacker steals your information from a browser cookie.

Third-party cookies

Third-party cookies allow advertisers to share your information amongst each other, meaning the cookie data is not just restricted to one domain. This is when it becomes possible for websites to track a user’s browsing history. Third-party cookies are most commonly used to show relevant advertisements to users based on their browsing activity.

The majority of web browsers have privacy settings that you can use to block third-party cookies. Some browsers (such as Safari and Firefox) even do this by default. If your browser doesn’t do this, using incognito mode to browse the web will prevent third-party cookies from being collected.

Supercookies

Supercookies pose the largest threat when it comes to internet privacy as they’re difficult to delete and block. They’re a type of persistent cookie that an internet service provider (ISP) can use to collect users’ browsing history. The reason supercookies are much more difficult to get rid of is because they’re often stored in an inconspicuous location, so they won’t be deleted when you clear your cookies.

To protect your device from supercookies, always use encrypted connections (HTTPS) or download a VPN.

Clearing cookies

How to remove cookies from iPhone and iPad

Apple’s default web browser is Safari, so chances are that’s where your cookies will be stored. Here’s how to clear cookies from Safari:

  • Open Settings.
  • Select ‘Safari’ and then ‘Advanced’.
  • Select ‘Website Data’. This will show you the size of all the cookie files stored on your device.
  • If you want to delete all of your cookies, select ‘Remove All Website Data’. Alternatively, by selecting ‘Edit’, you can remove only certain cookies from your device.
  • If you use other browsers on your Apple device, you can usually clear cookies within the app itself. For Google Chrome users, the steps for clearing cookies are the same as deleting cookies on a Samsung device.

How to delete cookies on Samsung devices

Samsung’s default web browser is Google Chrome, so you’ll need to open your Chrome app to delete cookies. Here’s a step by step for deleting cookies on Samsung devices:

  • Tap ‘More’ in the top right of your Chrome app.
  • Select ‘History’ and then ‘Clear browsing data’.
  • At the top, you can choose a time range to delete selected cookies, or press ‘All time’ to delete all cookies.
  • Next, check the boxes next to ‘Cookies and site data’ and ‘Cached images and files’.
  • Tap ‘Clear data’ and your cookies should be gone.

 

If web design and development interests you, our team are experts at optimising your website for security, aesthetics and appealing to Google’s search rankings. Get in touch to find out how we can help your business’ online presence.

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