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Cookie: Definition, History, Uses, and Dangers

Cookies are small files that websites you visit send to your browser. These files then keep track of and keep an eye on the websites you visit and the links you click. Cookies keep track of the items you've clicked on, the places you often visit, the kinds of content you're interested in, and even your login details. To make your online searches more efficient, they design a customized experience.

Cookies are generally not dangerous. Cookies can not typically infect your computer with malware or viruses. A cookie cannot affect how your computer functions since the data it contains do not change during transmission. Hackers, however, are intelligent. Some attackers may hide spyware and viruses in seemingly innocent cookies.

Cookies were first created to simplify the lives of site searchers. Well-known websites use them to create highly personalized, individual web pages that offer relevant content to you. However, some websites and online entrepreneurs have discovered alternative uses for them. They can and do collect sensitive personal data that might be used to profile you and provide you with advertisements that are so specifically tailored that they almost seem intrusive. Indeed, cookies do provide a number of highly beneficial advantages that facilitate easier online browsing. On the other hand, you can be worried about the possibility of someone violating your privacy.

Cookies made their first appearance in the Netscape Navigator web browser in 1994. They assisted the browser in determining whether a user had previously visited a certain website. The first cookie implementation was created by Netscape engineer Lou Montulli. He received U.S. Patent No. 5,774,670A, described as "Persistent client state in a client-server system based on the hypertext transfer protocol."

In particular, users were not informed of the existence of cookies and they were accepted by default. After an article about cookies appeared in the Financial Times on February 12, 1996, the general public became aware of them. Cookies attracted a lot of media interest in the same year, particularly because of their privacy issues.

Cookies are little files that websites you visit send to your browser. The websites you visit and the links you click on these pages are tracked and monitored by these files.

The more official names for a "computer cookie" are an HTTP cookie, a web cookie, an internet cookie, or a browser cookie. The name is a condensed form of the phrase "magic cookie", which refers to a data packet that a computer obtains and then transmits back without changing. A computer cookie is composed of information regardless of its name. A cookie is sent to your computer by a website when you visit it. It is kept on your computer in a file that is housed in your web browser. This file is frequently known as "Cookies" to make it easier to discover.

Retailers utilize cookies to keep track of the clothing and footwear you've clicked on, as well as the goods you've added to your online shopping account and previously purchased. They are used by news websites to keep track of the stories you have previously opened. Some websites may use cookies to save your username and password so that they will automatically fill in when you go to the login page.

This could sound invasive, and it's true that many internet users dislike cookies tracking their online activities. However, businesses and marketers claim that cookies make your online experience better.

For instance, a news website you frequently visit may utilize the data it has gathered through cookies to suggest more articles you might find interesting. Based on the handbags, laptops, and cellphones you have clicked on its and other shops' websites, a store may use the data gathered through its cookies to propose things you would want to buy.

What is the History of Cookies?

Cookies were developed by Lou Montulli, a programmer at Netscape Communications' web browser, in 1994. The concept behind cookies was straightforward: by using them, online shoppers could save their purchases in an online shopping cart. According to The New York Times, this was the first time in Internet history that data from a website could be trustworthily kept on a user's computer.

In the same year that Montulli submitted a patent application for the cookie technology, Internet Explorer 2 introduced it. Although they are now a necessary component of the online experience, cookies were only used in the background.

The initial worries also surfaced at this time. Individual tracking was welcomed by the general public, while more tech-savvy users voiced their worries. The Financial Times eventually published it as a result in February 1996. People were more concerned about what the cookies might be used for than what they were.

Consumer online privacy has become a problem as a result. Considered the fact that cookies weren't being utilized for advertising at the time. It didn't mean, however, that their potential wasn't recognized and taken into account in a far wider context than their original purpose. After 1988, internet cookies were declared safe. Cookies became a potent marketing tool after 1999. The ISOC made an effort to control cookies. The Federal Trade Commission and the European Union took serious measures as a result of the unchecked user tracking.

The Cookie Law took effect in 2011. Also known as Directive 2009/136/EC, it states that installing third-party cookies without the user's consent is prohibited. Companies were no longer permitted to obtain user data without their knowledge and consent. Of course, first-party cookies and other tracking tools essential to a positive user experience were not covered by the rule. Simply defined, the advent of pop-ups requesting users' consent to acquire third-party data is its turning point.

How Do Cookies Work?

Computer cookies are pretty small files that online servers transmit to browsers and frequently contain unique identifiers. Each time your browser requests a new page, these cookies can then be transmitted back to the server. It enables a website to keep track of your online preferences and behavior.

A piece of data is transmitted from the website and kept in the user's web browser whenever a user accesses a website or performs specific actions there. An individual may collect several cookies from various websites when they explore the web and visit different websites. When users visit a previously visited website, the browser may read the cookie and recollect details about them, including their prior behaviors, information, and sometimes even their online browsing path.

You do not see this activity. You won't be aware of it unless you have configured your options to notify you when a cookie is being placed on your machine. You probably aren't aware that a cookie is being read when you visit a website again.

What are the Uses of Cookies?

Cookies allow for the future retrieval of restricted information from an internet browser session on a specific website. They may also be referred to as internet cookies, browser cookies, or online cookies. A user's browser, the website they are visiting, or a third party that could use the data for other reasons can all access cookies. Cookies are often used for monitoring, personalization, and session management.

Without cookies, you would have to log back in each time you left a website or, if you unintentionally closed the browser, rebuild your shopping cart. Making cookies is a crucial component of using the internet.

Here is how cookies should be used:

  • Personalization: The primary method for personalizing your visits using cookies is through customized advertising. Cookies utilize information about the pages or content you visit to help create advertisements that are more relevant to you.
  • Session Management: For instance, cookies, for instance, enable websites to identify users and recall their unique login information and preferences, such as their preference for sports news over political news.
  • Tracking: Shopping sites utilize cookies to keep track of the products customers have previously viewed, enabling the sites to recommend more products they might like and store products in shopping carts while customers browse elsewhere.

Although you stand to gain the most from this, site developers also gain a lot from this arrangement. Cookies are kept locally on your device in order to reduce server storage requirements. As a result, websites may be customized while spending less on server upkeep and storage.

What are the Types of Cookies?

Modern web browsers support a variety of cookie types. Specific use cases for various cookie types provide particular features.

"Magic cookies" are indeed an old computing term referring to data packets that are sent and received without modifications. This is frequently used to enter data into computer databases, such as a company's internal network. The "magic cookie", designed for web surfing, has been repurposed as HTTP cookies. The "magic cookie" served as an inspiration for web browser developer Lou Montulli in 1994. When he assisted an online retailer in fixing their overburdened servers, he reproduced this idea for browsers. Currently, our online experience is controlled using the HTTP cookie. Additionally, some bad guys can use it to monitor internet behavior and steal personal information. The contemporary "cookie" we use today is older than this idea. Various cookie types monitor various actions.

  • HTTP cookies: This is the broad category of computer cookies used by contemporary web browsers to activate particular features. Except for flash cookies, every cookie in this list is an HTTP cookie.
  • Session cookies: A session cookie only remains active while the user is using or accessing a certain website.
  • Tracking cookies: It can be used to keep long-term recordings of several visits to the same website.
  • Authentication cookies: A user's login status and user name are tracked via authentication cookies.
  • Zombie cookies: This is a particular kind of cookie that stays in place even after the user makes an attempt to remove it.
  • Flash cookies: These cookies are a special kind that functions with Adobe Flash; they are not browser or HTTP cookies. These cookies are no longer routinely used due to the fall in Flash usage.
  • Secure cookies: These are first- and third-party cookies, which can only be sent encoded through HTTPS contacts.
  • First-party cookies: The cookie and the data it contains are only accessible by the same site on which they were set, also known as SameSite cookies.
  • Third-party cookies: These cookies are not exclusive to the website where they were initially created. For user monitoring and customization reasons, third-party cookies provide access to organizations other than the originating website.
  • Persistent cookies: These are commonly referred to as "permanent cookies", and they last until either a predetermined date that is established by the web server, or for a programmable amount of time.

What are the Types of HTTP Cookies?

Internet browsers employ HTTP cookies, often known as "internet cookies", to monitor, customize, and save data about each user's session. Simply said, a "session" is the amount of time you spend on a website. When you visit a new website, cookies are used to recognize you. A brief stream of identifying information is sent to your web browser by the web server, which houses the website's data.

To recognize and read browser cookies, "name-value" pairs are employed. These tell cookies what information to send and where to send it. Only when it wants the web browser to save something does the server transmit the cookie. Your web browser will save cookies locally to remember the "name-value pair" that uniquely identifies you if you're asking "where are cookies kept". The web browser sends this information to the web server in the form of a cookie when the user visits this website again in the future. The browser will transmit back to the server at this time to get information from previous sessions.

1. Session Cookies

Cookies in the online world can be either session cookies or persistent cookies, with a few slight variations.

Session cookies are only utilized when exploring a website. They are never saved to the hard disk; instead, they are kept in random access memory. Session cookies are removed automatically after the session is over. They also support the operation of third-party anonymizer plugins or the "back" button. These plugins are made to function and support user privacy in particular browsers.

2. Persistent Cookies

Although many persistent cookies have an expiration date and are immediately deleted when that date is reached, persistent cookies can stay on a computer perpetually. Persistent cookies have two main uses:

  • Authentication: These cookies keep tabs on which name and if a person is logged in. Additionally, they simplify login details so consumers don't need to memorize site passwords.
  • Tracking: These cookies keep tabs on repeated visits to a single website over time. For instance, some online retailers employ cookies to monitor specific users' visits and the sites and items they see. They can recommend more goods that could interest visitors thanks to the information they gather. Based on a user's previous web surfing activity, a profile is gradually created.

Cookies themselves are harmless since the data they contain never changes. They are unable to install malware or viruses on computers. Some cyber attacks, unfortunately, have the ability to access user browsing sessions and hijack cookies. They can trace people's browsing history, which is dangerous. In this regard, it would be useful to mention the types of cookies that should be avoided.

A first-party cookie is one that the website's owner holds. It was developed by the host domain with the main objective of managing a single browsing session. It keeps track of the actions visitors do, the areas of the website they visit, and the alterations they make (e.g. adding items to the shopping cart). In addition to guaranteeing a positive web surfing experience, first-party cookies gather analytical data that is only accessible by the website's owner.

In most cases, first-party cookies are not utilized in advertising. They are the property of the website's owner, who is the only person authorized to use them. There are a few exceptions, though. Data management systems are capable of storing first-party data. It is then feasible to give it to independent suppliers. As part of a collaboration between websites, first-party data may also be exchanged.

A third-party cookie, such as one from an ad tech platform, belongs to someone other than the owner of the website. A third-party cookie's principal function is to monitor user activities online. The majority of the time, these cookies are used for online advertising activities, while they are occasionally utilized to deliver third-party services.

Millions of consumers visit websites every day, and third-party cookies are an essential component of those websites. They are kept by the browser on the user's computer, thereby enabling the third parties to compile thorough profiles of each individual user on their web server. And if a particular advertising firm is aware of a certain person's location, reading preferences, interests, and recent purchases, it may target and retarget ads on multiple websites and businesses to provide that person with advertisements for goods in which they are truly interested.

So, how does a third-party cookie enter a website? It's an easy procedure. Many websites rent space to ads in order to monetize. As a result, they only let third parties embed cookies on their website in the shape of an ad or an indistinguishable pixel. The ability to store cookies on web pages used to be unlimited. Each user might have been monitored by many 3rd-party cookies continuously prior to restrictions enforced by Apple, Mozilla, and even Google. By doing this, other websites were able to access a user's browser history, preferences, areas of interest over the course of numerous visits, shopping carts, and various other pieces of information that were utilized for ad targeting.

Zombie cookies are third-party cookies that are loaded permanently on users' computers, even if they choose not to install cookies. Additionally, after being erased, they come back. The first zombie cookies were made using information kept in the Adobe Flash storage bin. They are quite challenging to get rid of and are occasionally referred to as "flash cookies". Zombie cookies can be used by site analytics businesses to track the surfing habits of certain people, much like regular third-party cookies. Zombies may also be used by websites to block particular users.

Is Allowing Cookies Good?

The response to this query is not simple. Since they were first introduced, cookies have been a regular element of internet usage. Cookies serve a functional role in facilitating a seamless online surfing experience by remembering what users are doing and where they are. Cookies allow us to maintain our login status, maintain a list of our favorites, and see advertisements for things we have previously seen. Cookies may show consumers advertisements for things they would not have purchased normally, but at a discounted price. Third-party cookies provide organizations the ability to monitor user activity in a way that the user may not be aware of, which may violate their privacy. Third-party cookies are frequently used by advertisers to track user behavior and provide relevant advertising to the user. Many people who don't want to be followed or have their browsing histories disclosed have privacy concerns about this.

Cyber attackers can use third-party cookies for their own purposes. They might then access user data and carry out other cyber attacks as a result. Cross-site scripting, cross-site request forgery, and session hijacking are some of these attacks. Unsecured cookies may potentially pose a security risk to website owners and users. Unencrypted data about an insecure cookie is sent over HTTP to the original website or to a third party. That's a low danger if the information is something simple, like if the person has already visited the site. However, some websites may employ cookies to record user data, including personally identifiable data like login passwords and credit card numbers.

How to Allow Cookies?

Your online experience can include cookies, but you don't have to. You may control which cookies are stored on your computer or mobile device if you'd like. Allowing cookies will speed up your browsing. For some users, a comfortable online experience comes second to avoiding network security threats posed by cookies. Below are instructions for enabling cookies in various web browsers and operating systems.

You may enable cookies on the Safari browser on your iPhone by following next steps:

  1. On the iPhone's home screen, access settings for Safari.
  2. Scrolling down, click "Safari."
  3. Scroll down to locate "Privacy and security."
  4. Deactivate "Block all cookies."

To enable cookies on the Chrome browser on your Android device follow the next steps:

  1. Launch the Chrome client.
  2. Click the menu icon in the upper-right corner of the screen.
  3. Choose "Settings"
  4. Click "Site settings" link.
  5. Choose "Cookies."
  6. Flip the switch next to "Cookies" on.

You may enable cookies on the Safari browser on your Mac by following the next steps:

  1. Launch the Safari app.
  2. Select "Safari" in the drop-down option.
  3. Select "Preferences" from the menu's drop-down.
  4. Find the tab labeled "Privacy" and click it.
  5. Uncheck the box next to "Block all cookies" to enable cookies on your computer.

To enable cookies on the Chrome browser on your Mac or Windows PC follow the next steps:

  1. On a PC, launch Chrome.
  2. In the upper-right corner of the application, pick the menu icon (three vertical dots).
  3. After scrolling down, select "Settings" from the menu that appears.
  4. On the menu on the left, choose "Privacy and security."
  5. Select "Cookies and Site Data" from the primary menu.
  6. Select "Allow all cookies" from the menu.

To enable cookies on the Mozilla Firefox browser on your Mac or Windows PC follow the next steps:

  1. Launch Firefox.
  2. Select the menu icon in the upper-right corner (the three horizontal lines).
  3. Choose "Preferences" for Mac or "Settings" for Windows from the drop-down menu.
  4. Select "Privacy and security" from the menu on the left.
  5. Choose "Custom."
  6. Deactivate the "Cookies" box.

You may reduce your risk of privacy breaches by removing cookies. Your browser's tracking and customization settings can also be reset. Normal cookies are simple to delete, but doing so could make some websites more difficult to use. Users might need to submit their information again each time they visit a website without cookies. Below are listed the several ways to remove cookies.

To disable cookies on the Chrome browser on your Android device follow the next steps:

  1. Open the Chrome browser.
  2. Click the menu icon in the top right corner.
  3. Choose "Settings."
  4. Click the "Site settings" link.
  5. Choose "Cookies."
  6. Turn off the knob next to "Cookies."

To disable cookies on the Chrome browser on your Mac or Windows PC follow the next steps:

  1. On the PC, open Chrome.
  2. In the top-right corner of the app, select the menu icon (the three vertical dots).
  3. After scrolling down, click "Settings" in the drop-down menu.
  4. On the left-side menu, select "Privacy and security."
  5. On the main menu, select "cookies and other site data."
  6. To remove cookies from the computer, choose "Block all cookies" or "Block third-party cookies."

To disable cookies on the Mozilla Firefox browser on your Mac or Windows PC follow the next steps:

  1. Start up Firefox.
  2. In the top-right corner, select the menu icon (the three horizontal lines).
  3. From the drop-down menu, choose "Preferences" for Mac or "Settings" for Windows.
  4. Tap "Privacy and security" on the left sidebar.
  5. Select "Custom."
  6. To delete cookies from your computer, check the box next to "Cookies."

You may disable cookies on the Safari browser on your Mac by following the next steps:

  1. Launch the Safari app.
  2. In the menu bar, select "Safari."
  3. From the drop-down menu, choose "Preferences".
  4. Find the "Privacy" tab and click it.
  5. To remove cookies from the computer, choose the checkbox next to "Block all cookies."
  6. "Prevent cross-site tracking" has a checkbox near to it.

You may disable cookies on the Safari browser on your iPhone by following the next steps:

  1. On the iPhone home screen, access settings.
  2. Click "Safari" after scrolling down.
  3. To find "Privacy and security," scroll down.
  4. Set "Block all cookies" to "On."
  5. To prevent third-party cookies, activate "Prevent cross-site tracking."

To avoid the invasion of tracking cookies and more harmful types, users should use some internet security software. Before deleting cookies, it is useful to examine the expected usability level of a website that uses cookies. Cookies often make web browsing better, but they should always be used responsibly. It's essential to be cautious and regularly clear up your cookies, regardless of how you handle cookies.

A cache is a hard disk memory space where the browser caches online objects or internet files on the user's workstation. When a user accesses a website, the browser first checks the items in its cache before requesting the website. Caching increases accessibility while optimizing online browsing.

Browser caching is used by web browsers like Safari, Firefox, and Chrome to enhance the speed of frequently viewed web pages. The requested files are kept in a cache for that browser in the user's computer storage when a user accesses a web page.

The majority of the files a browser needs to retrieve a previously visited page come from the cache rather than being sent again from the web server. Read cache is the term for this method. The data in the browser cache can be read by the browser quicker than the webpage's files can be read again.

Cookies and cache increase the speed at which a website loads by storing information in places like cookies and cache, which both store browsing sessions (user preferences) and the contents of websites, respectively. The user's machine can never be harmed by a cache, but a cookie might endanger user privacy if it is used improperly by attackers to gather personal information. Let's review the distinctions between cookies and cache:

The cache stores the content of webpages for subsequent use. Only the browser keeps the cache's contents.In cookies, user preferences are kept. The cookie's contents are stored both on the server and in the browser.
The contents of a cache are preserved, such as Javascript, CSS, images, and HTML pages.Cookies are used to store information such as Browsing sessions and temporary tracking information.
It runs out manually.It automatically expires.
It occupies a large amount of area in terms of capacity.In terms of capacity, it takes up less space.
The response is not sent with requests while using cache.The cookie transmits the request-accompanied answer.
Less memory efficient than caches.Cookies utilize memory more effectively.

Can Cookies Contain Viruses?

In most cases, cookies can't infect your computer with malware or viruses. A cookie cannot impact how your computer functions since the data it contains does not alter during transmission. Hackers, however, are intelligent. Some people may conceal spyware and viruses in seemingly innocent cookies.

Additionally, there are specific cookie types produced by respectable businesses and internet service providers (ISP) that worry privacy activists. For instance, a "zombie cookie" replicates itself after being destroyed, making it challenging to manage. Third-party tracking cookies can endanger your online privacy because they make it simpler for parties you can't identify to keep track of the websites you visit, the files you download, and the photos you view. "Supercookies" are another issue. ISPs embed this kind of tracking cookie into an HTTP header. These cookies are used by ISPs to compile data on users' internet activities. Supercookies are opposed by certain privacy activists who claim that most users are unaware that they are being tracked online.