A cookie is a small file containing certain information that are sent from a web server to the user’s computer. A cookie helps identify your computer and can store data such as what time zone you are in, which browser you are using, and what your preferences are. Cookies can also be used to store some user data for websites to use when they access the information later on.
Cookies are data units that were created in the early 1990s and were called after fortune cookies due to their structures as message carriers.
When that widget on a website asks you to “Accept” or “Decline” cookies, what are they exactly and why should it matter? Read on to know more.
What Are Cookies Used For?
Cookies allow the website to recognize the user’s browser, so it knows what information to give back to the user.
Cookies are things that help your website work. They keep you logged in (remember you) and stop people from clicking the same button every time when filling out a form, for example.
When you enter a website and are prompted for your login and password – this is a straightforward example of cookies.
Cookies can be used by websites for a range of reasons, like personalizing content or enabling shopping carts. But it might also be a security issue, as they are susceptible to hacking – calling attention to the need for cookie policies on websites.
Websites come in diverse forms and sizes, but virtually all of them employ cookies for purposes ranging from simple site functionality to complex end-user tracking. The best way to track user behavior through a browser is with cookies.
Web cookies are generally used for four purposes:
3) content personalization
4) website performance
Types of Cookies
First-party cookies are kept on a website domain that a user has visited. First-party cookies are always ON by default.
These cookies are used by publishers to gather statistical information and improve the overall functionality of a site – such as keeping track of user preferences for language, shopping, etc…
First-party cookies can occasionally also be used in third-party settings. For instance, a widget or chatbot from a third party may leave its first-party cookie on the publisher’s website.
What cookies your website employs depends on what third-party services and features you have added to your domain. Third-party cookies will be set, for instance, if your site is using Google Analytics.
Another great example, is when you use social media plugins from Facebook (or any other social media channel), or embedded content from platforms like YouTube.
This is generally carried out to enable features like commenting on content, and it can later be used for cross-site tracking.
Users’ growing demand for greater privacy and various privacy regulations such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), and PDPA (Personal Data Protection Act) have led website owners and advertisers wordlwide to look for alternative ways to connect with their audience.
While all are significant, we would like to focus on the most commonly questioned law (GDPR).
1) Before a user from the EU becomes a client, businesses should develop their GDPR strategy. A business must comply with the GDPR if it sells products/services to EU citizens.
A company has to have a policy in place if it wants to advertise to EU citizens or otherwise target them.
2) When a business unintentionally gathers data from the EU even if it has no connections to the nations covered by the GDPR. Simply put, consider a local small business in Illinois that only offers products/services to those who live in the state. What if someone from an EU nation visits their website and accepts their tracking cookies? Technically, they’ve just gathered information from an EU resident. Will they face penalties if they do not have a GDPR policy? While unlikely, it could happen…
If you do have login, then it’s important to make sure that your site’s users know what cookies are being used and why.
TechBear Tip: Including a section on cookies in an ethics disclaimer helps in letting prospective customers and users know how you intend to handle their personal data while doing business with them.
How Can I tell Which Cookies My Website Is Using/Eating?
There are many ways to find out which cookies your website is using. One way is by adding a piece of code to the footer of your website. This code will check for all the cookies on your website and show you a list of them in order from most to least used. You can then use this list to delete unused cookies and keep only those that are necessary for your site.
Another way is by using a browser plugin – that shows you a list of all the cookies being used on any given page. Plugins allow you to control which cookies are allowed and which ones are blocked from being used on any given page.
Or, you can always consult your web developer and ask which cookies your site is using – as they would be most familiar with the website.
TechBear Tip: Use a cookie checker tool to scan and detect all cookies, trackers and “trojan horses” on your website. Some even offer free scans for smaller websites (with under 100 subpages).
However, many people are still unaware of the existence of cookies and their implications on their privacy. Cookies have been the most commonly used tool to this end.
They allow website owners to collect and store users’ personal data such as their preferences, location, and browsing history in order to offer them personalized content, build a better profile of them for advertising purposes, or send them promotional material. However, since cookies are also used to track users’ activities on the internet without their knowledge or consent (through tracking pixels), they can be seen as invasive and a violation of privacy…
The problem with “transparency” is that it necessitates that people be aware of what information is being collected about them. Hiding behind the veil of “legality,” companies collect and store personal data in the hopes to offer personalized ads and messages. However, this means that people must ensure their privacy settings are set at a moderate level for them to receive any content or material from marketers without being targeted. In other words, they have to take control over their own personal data in order to avoid being monitored.
Most websites will still function properly even if you choose to decline the “Accept Cookies” notification.
As we continue to navigate the digital space, it is important that we take control of our own privacy settings and understand the implications of sharing information with companies.
However, cookies are necessary to provide users with a more personalized experience across your various web properties.
As long as you stay compliant and have a clear policy, you can’t really go wrong.
Do you require help with it? Contact TechBear at [email protected] — we’ll walk you through this step-by-step!