What are cookies and why every Internet user should know about it

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Google and Facebook have been heavily fined by a French government agency for their unregulated use of ‘cookies’. Wondering what damage an innocent cookie can do? Well, apart from adding to your calorie intake in your kitchen, not much will happen. The second type we’re concerned about: Internet cookies.

Cookies are like the memory of a website. Remove it, and the website you visit on your browser will no longer remember you. It also won’t give any special treatment.

Cookies are text files that contain small amounts of data about you. This data is used to identify your computer as you. It essentially gives character to your online identity. For example, a cookie would tell a website that you were looking to buy a phone from previous searches. It will also give an indication about the price range you are looking at and even the brands you prefer.

As soon as you access a server, the data stored in a cookie is created. It labels something unique to you and even your computer. The computer stores this data locally and every time you visit the same website, it knows you by a unique ID. The website then shows you the relevant information.

Why should I read about cookies

If you are a creature living under a rock with no internet connection, you can skip this story. If not, you may have interacted directly or indirectly with cookies, no matter how little you use the Internet. It helps make internet surfing on personal devices much easier. Very often, when you visit a new website, it will ask you for permission to accept cookies. You get the option to accept or reject.

Let’s take these two scenarios and explain what happens

Accept

As soon as you accept, the website will start tracking data on how you are progressing in their domain. They’ll know which page you’re visiting, how much time you’re spending on a particular section, and even where to exit. If you decide to sign-up for any of the services offered by the Website, it may also remember your User ID and Password (with consent). Isn’t it convenient to just jump into the sign-in page and press a button to log in. That’s how a cookie helps you. It identifies you and your laptop, or phone, or desktop with a unique ID and it tells the website how to treat you.

As with most things online, there is a good side and a bad side. The good side is that if you accept cookies, entering and exiting websites and services is almost as easy. You don’t need to remember user ID or password, you don’t need to watch irrelevant and spammy ads and sometimes you might even find the deal you were really looking for.

Can cookies go bad?

Now on to the bad. A cookie is like a double-edged sword. This can help you get lazy with passwords and user IDs and find those occasional deals you need as well. But, in the wrong hands it can make life miserable.

Cookies in themselves are not dangerous, they cannot be modified by any third party. However, if a PC is hacked, malicious actors can access your browsing and other sensitive data from cookies and use it against you.

Now, on to the second scenario.

reject

If you decline cookies. This is simple. The Internet will throw generic advertisements at you, which may or may not be relevant. Every time you visit a particular website, it will ask for your credentials and it will not track your activity online.

The user experience may not be as smooth as the developer would have intended, but your data is going nowhere and you will be in complete control. choice is yours.

In addition, you also have the option of deleting existing cookies from your browser, which will have the same effect as denying the request in the first place.

Google and Facebook fined

CNIL, a French government agency, has fined Google and Facebook 210 million euros. According to the agency, both these websites have made it easier for the user to accept cookies. On the other hand, deleting cookies takes some effort. The user has to enter the browser settings, look for ‘Privacy features’ and then delete the cookies. The tech giants have been given 3 months to resolve the issue.

What are cookies and why every internet user should know about it This post first appeared on BGR India.

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