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What is a website cookie? How cookies affect online privacy

You browse cookies regardless of whether you browse Google search results, log in to Facebook, or just chat innocently in an online forum. They are not inherently harmful, but just like passwords or email addresses, they can be used in the wrong hands.

Keep reading to learn what cookies are and why they can be so dangerous in the wrong hands.

What is a website cookie?

Cookies are files on your computer that begin their life when you visit a website. They store little information about the interaction with your website. The cookie is created on your first visit and is then verified by repeated visits to the website that made it.

Why do cookies have this name?

The cookie has a strange name, but no one can directly answer why it is called that. One theory is that it is derived from the term “magic cookie,” which was used in the term information package in 1979. The other is that it is a reference to Hansel and Gretel who navigate the forest with the help of cookie mares. Another says it’s because at the time, the actor on the Andy Williams Show had a character called “Cookie Bear” who asked for a cookie, just like a computer.

How your computer receives cookies

No matter how the cookies got their name, you’ve probably seen websites inform you that they’re going to give you one. You may even get options to customize what is stored in it. This pop-up is due to the EU’s GDPR law, which requires users to accept cookies that store personal information. That’s why websites today seem so eager to talk about the use of cookies.

Cookies are special to you, and the web server can read them when you interact with it. Programs on your computer can also read them.

Diagram of how to create and use cookies.
Photo credit: Tizio /Wikimedia

Your browser transmits cookies between your computer and the website. The website may customize the content you see based on the cookies stored. Cookies may expire after a certain period of time (usually specified by the website that issued the cookie), but you can delete them yourself if necessary.

Why do cookies exist?

So why do we use cookies on the Internet? Because they are convenient and effective. If a website wants to serve thousands of users without cookies, it should store and process all interaction information. By downloading this job to your browser, it becomes a faster and less difficult procedure.

Cookies identify you on the website. Cookies can store all kinds of information, such as your choice, browser type, location, etc. The website can then use this information to improve your experience.

For example, have you ever closed your browser, reopened it, and noticed that the website did not log out? This was possible with the help of cookies. The website cookie remembered your login information and used it to log back in quickly.

How do cookies affect you?

A login screen that describes what information the cookie stores.
Photo credit: mishoo /depositphotos

For the most part, cookies are not harmful. They are just one protocol used on the Internet to facilitate communication between users and servers. Cookies cannot transmit viruses or malware, nor can they transmit malicious software to other users.

As such, the use of cookies is not necessary most of the time. You lose the convenience of staying logged in to your favorite sites and you can get little.

So what should you take care of? The worst case scenario would be to hijack or falsify one of your cookies, allowing another user to emulate you on a website. This may result in users eavesdropping on your credentials or hijacking your account credentials.

However, no need to worry. The security of cookies depends mainly on the website and your browser; for example, the cookie encryption feature can help protect you from hackers.

A more common problem is a special type of cookie called a “tracking cookie”. These cookies do not mean your well-being. Instead, they keep track of all your activities on specific websites.

This harvest data forms browsing history profiles that can then target specific ads to you. As such, this poses a privacy issue where cookies snoop on your every move.

Protect your privacy with cookies

Here’s what you need to know about the privacy of cookies: they don’t see any information you don’t provide yourself. In other words, just because a website has a cookie doesn’t mean they know all of your family members and what schools you’ve been to – unless you’ve written that information on the website.

The biggest problem with tracking cookies is that the ad agency can view your browsing history because they use it to target ads to your interests. You can prevent them from doing this, of course, by playing with your browser settings and disabling cookies.

If you use a modern browser, you probably already have tracking cookie protection. For example, already in 2019 By default, Firefox started tracking cookies

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. As such, you should check what your browser is doing to protect you from tracking cookies.

If you do not want to disable all cookies and maintain a level of convenience, some browsers allow you to disable certain cookies for certain domains. At the same time, more advanced browsers allow you to sync with blacklists maintained by people or communities to block domains with shady cookie functionality. You can also enable it HSTS to prevent cookie hijacking

What is HSTS and how does it protect HTTPS from hackers?
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Ultimately, the privacy of cookies is all about trust. Do you trust that website to record every interaction? Read their privacy policies and terms of use – you can usually find them on the website near the title or footer. If you do not trust them, you can always delete cookies later.

Getting facts directly from website cookies

Website cookies store your information, but there is no real reason to fear them. They are ready to make your Internet life more manageable by remembering who you are and how you use the website. However, if you don’t like the idea of ​​cookies, you can tell your browser to never store them.

If you are hungry for more cookies, be sure to learn about it different types of browser cookies

7 browser cookie types you need to know
Not all browser cookies are designed to reduce your online privacy – some of them will help you. Here’s what you need to know.
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