Introduction to Website Cookies

When visiting a website, you may have seen a banner pop up that asks you to accept cookies before you can proceed to view the site.

Do you usually click on the “accept” button and move on to the website? Have you ever wondered why you see these cookie consent banners, and what they actually mean? This article explains what cookies are, how and why they are used, and how you can check information on cookies.

Cookies are a technology that can allow tracking for different purposes. So, it’s important to understand exactly what they do, and why. Let’s start by understanding the technology.

A cookie is a small data file that is sent to the web browser on your device (your computer, tablet or mobile phone) when you visit a website, interact with its features, or click on external content such as an advertisement. This data file stores certain information that allows the website to recognize your device. Cookies can allow you to access and operate many web services more easily.

The type of information stored in a cookie depends on the website and the cookie function. In some cases, a website will assign you a unique cookie ID, a random number that can identify your device when you visit next time. This can be used, for example, so that you do not have to log in again the next time you visit the same website from that same browser. When you visit the website again, the website can read your cookie ID and match it to the other data that it has stored about you.

For example, suppose you are shopping at a site, and you add various items to your shopping cart, but don’t have time to complete your purchase. When you visit the site again the next day, a cookie makes it possible for the site to recognize that you are the one who was shopping yesterday, so the site knows to display the items that you previously put in the shopping cart.

Another example is the language choice you make when you visit a website. That choice can be stored in a cookie, so that every time you visit the site again, you can read it in the language you originally chose.

This unique identifier can also be used in order to track your browsing behavior. This is often done in order for site owners to figure out how visitors are using their website, so that they are able to improve it. It can also be used to create a profile of a user. Keeping track of a user’s interests allows for personalization of content, such as on news feeds, or advertisements.

There are also differences in who can access the information in a cookie. There are “first party” cookies and “third party” cookies. In the case of first party cookies, they are set by the website you are visiting, and only that site can read the information stored in them. For example, if you visit Company A's website to view information about sofas, and that information is stored as a first party cookie," and you visit Company A's website again on another day, that cookie information may be used to display sofa-related information. However, since only Company A can access first party cookies, when you visit Company B or Company C's Web site, no sofa-related information will be displayed.

Third party cookies are cookies that are set by a different website or company with which you have interacted in other ways, such as through technical measures called scripts. A third party cookie can not only recognize you on the website you were visiting at the time the cookie was set, but also on other websites you visit in the future. Usually this is used for advertising purposes. In the sofa example mentioned earlier, if information about a sofa is stored as a "third-party cookie" on Company A's website, sofa-related information will be displayed on Company B's and Company C's websites when they are browsed. Third party cookies are mainly used for advertising.

Is There Anything to Worry About?

As explained, not all cookies have the same functionality. Some cookies, called “necessary” cookies, are required for a given website to work properly, and may include minor measures for security and fraud prevention. Other cookies serve different purposes, such as for performance or advertisements. It is up to you to decide how comfortable you are with each type of cookie.

Depending on your location, different privacy laws give you the right to accept or opt out of certain cookie tracking. We recommend that you review the cookie policy and settings of each website.

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