Tips & Guides

Computer Cookies: All You Need to Know

Much like their delicious namesake, computer cookies come in lots of different forms. But what exactly are cookies, what do they do & should you accept them?

According to the Cookie Monster, you should never reject a cookie. 

The greedy blue muppet may have a point when it comes to the baked kind. But computer cookies are a completely different matter. Because, while some cookies make surfing the internet a breeze, others are best avoided…

computer cookies guide - TechBuddy infographic

What are computer cookies? 

Sometimes called “browser cookies” or “HTTP cookies”, computer cookies are like little packets of info that are stored on your computer. Each time you visit a website, more info is added to the packet. And, each time you visit the website, the website reads this information to personalize your experience. 

So, for example, when you log in to a website, a cookie can keep track of your login info. This means you don’t have to type it in every time you log in to the website.

Also, whenever you shop online, cookies keep track of the items in your shopping cart. Without cookies, you’d lose all your items every time you clicked onto another page. It would be like walking around a supermarket with a gaping hole in your shopping cart!

Are computer cookies bad? 

Generally speaking, no. Mostly, they make browsing the internet much more convenient. But as they’ve become extra sophisticated, they can now create a more detailed picture of your online activity, including your search trends and interests based on what sites you visit. And you might not always be aware of who has access to this picture.

This has led to the EU creating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which states that companies must first get consent from users before using cookies. Firms typically try to get this permission, and comply with GDPR rules, through so-called cookie banners. 

Also, although cookies cannot transfer viruses onto your computer, certain types of malware can sometimes disguise themselves as cookies, destroying data and generally making a nuisance of themselves in the process.

All the more reason to find out about the different types of cookies and how you can control your cookie intake.  

What types of cookies are there? 

As the infographic at the start of the article shows, there are plenty of different cookie types and ways how they can be categorized. Here we’ll explain the most common types in more detail:

Session cookies

Like all good cookies, session cookies don’t last long. Also known as “temporary cookies” or “transient cookies,” they help websites ID users ‘at the door’ and pick up information as they browse the website.

Once the website is closed the cookie is deleted. Session cookies are typically used for online shopping – so, to remember items stored in a shopping cart. Session cookies are always “first-party cookies,” meaning they are created and used by the website you’re visiting.

Permanent cookies

The Cookie Monster’s dream come true, permanent cookies – also known as persistent cookies – stick around for a long time. They are created when you visit a website and, unlike session cookies, they remain after you’ve left the website, retaining the information for your next visit.

One common use of permanent cookies is login and password details. This means you don’t have to re-enter your details every time you use the site. They are also used by the website to get a better insight into how people use their site, which means they can optimize the design, page length, layout etc.

These types of cookies are first-party permanent cookies. But there are also “third-party” permanent cookies – and that’s where things start to get controversial.

Third-party cookies

These ones can be a little harder to swallow. They are created by websites other than the one you are visiting and track your activity, using the data to customize content towards you. 

So, imagine you’re on a website with a Facebook ‘Like’ button. This button enables Facebook to track your activity on the site. Ever wondered how your search for “Halloween costumes for dogs” has led to a flood of ads of dogs dressed like pumpkins on your Facebook newsfeed? It’s all down to third-party cookies.

Third-party cookies are mainly used by advertisers and analytics companies and are the kind that give computer cookies a bad name. The fact that a company unknown to you is monitoring your online movements is clearly a cause for concern. 

Rare cookies

Flash cookies

Sometimes called “super cookies” or “local shared objects,” flash cookies are specifically designed to work independent from your web browser. So, instead of tracking your online use specifically, they track your use of Adobe Flash applications. Go to your applications folder on your computer and check the Adobe Flash folder. If you don’t see a Flash player, it’s not installed.

Even if you delete all cookies from your browser, flash cookies will still be hanging around. They can even recreate deleted browser cookies – something called “respawning.” This leads to...

Zombie cookies

While they might sound like something that you’d serve up at a kid’s Halloween party, these are actually cookies that have been brought back to life after they’ve been deleted. 

Much like flash cookies, these ones are hard to delete. So make sure you check out our “How to delete flash cookies and zombie cookies” section below. 

What should you do when the cookie consent banner pops up?

Whenever you’re hit with the ‘cookie consent’ banner, don’t just ignore it, close the box, or worse, click ‘accept all’. To make the box go away, there is an equally simple but much better way - one that actually protects your privacy. So next time a consent banner pops out, just do the following:

  1. Click on ‘cookie settings’ or ‘cookie options’
  2. Then either select ‘reject all’ or simply ‘save’ (this works because per the GDPR rules, all boxes except the"essential cookies" setting should be deselected by default). Of course, you can also go through each cookie setting in more detail to personalize which ones specifically you want to block or permit.

That’s it! So, we’re literally talking about two mouse clicks instead of one. Virtually no extra effort, but it saves your privacy.

Don’t get fooled by the wording either. The language used in these pop-up cookie consent boxes is often deliberately misleading. Lots of websites are counting on people just clicking accept or not taking any action at all. That’s because most do exactly that – research shows that only 0.5% of people open cookie settings. Don’t be like most people!

Should you delete all cookies?

Whether it’s a good idea to delete all your cookies depends on a few things. Here are a few pros and cons to deleting them:

Pros of deleting cookies

  • It’ll help you regain privacy and safeguard your data from websites. You’ll see fewer targeted ads based on your online use.
  • It’ll safeguard your privacy from other users if you’re using a shared computer.
  • You’ll be able to start with a ‘clean slate’ and take control over what cookies you want to accept.  

Cons of deleting cookies

  • Your browser will no longer remember your favorite websites.
  • You’ll have to re-enter all login information for all your accounts.
  • You’ll no longer see ads that are relevant to you (a pro for some, a con for others) 

How to delete all cookies 

how to delete cookies on chrome
Deleting cookies on Chrome is fairly straightforward

Although each browser has a different process when it comes to deleting cookies, most are pretty straightforward and follow a similar approach.

1. Open your browser and find out where your cookie settings are located. 

  • Chrome: go to Preferences or Settings > Privacy and security > Clear browsing data
  • Safari: go to Preferences or Settings > Security > Remove all website data
  • Internet Explorer: go to tools > Internet Options > Browsing history > Delete 
  • Firefox: go to Preferences > Privacy and security > Clear data

2. From here, you’ll find the option to delete all cookies.

Control those cookies

If you still want to retain some useful features of cookies, like keeping you signed in or remembering items in your shopping cart, you can instead check the “block third party cookies” box. This means your activities across different sites won’t be tracked. Some browsers, such as Firefox, have third-party cookies blocked by default.

You can also check options such as clearing cookies and site data when you quit the browser or sending a “Do not track request” which enables you to opt-out of tracking by websites including analytics services, advertising networks, and social platforms.

How to delete flash cookies and zombie cookies

Ah, those pesky cookies that don’t want to be deleted. While all other cookies can be removed easily enough via your browser preferences, flash cookies and zombie cookies need to be eliminated through the Adobe Website Storage Settings Manager. Keep in mind, if you don’t have Flash Player installed you don’t have to worry about flash cookies or zombie cookies. Go to your applications folder on your computer and check the Adobe Flash folder. If you don’t see a Flash player, it’s not installed.

You can also stop future flash cookies (and therefore zombie cookies) from being created. Go to the Adobe Global Storage Settings Manager. If you’ve got Flash installed on your computer, you’ll find a storage settings panel (it looks like an image but it’s actually interactive). Click on the second tab from the left. Then uncheck “allow third-party content” and move the slider all the way to the left.

Will there be cookies in the future? 

While fortune cookies look to the future, the computer kind might end up being a thing of the past.

Most browsers are already blocking third-party cookies by default, while Google has put plans in motion to phase out third-party cookie support in Chrome over the next two years. It’s also creating a project called “Privacy Sandbox,” which aims to minimize the data that is shared between websites and advertisers.

Still, the online-ad model is worth too much to disappear altogether – by 2025, its value is projected to reach an eye-watering $982.82 billion. That’s why Google aims to enable what the company calls “interest-based advertising” on the web, without letting advertisers know your identity. 

Known as the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), Google’s grand plan enables ad companies to target specific demographics – age, location, etc. – while at the same time allowing those users to remain anonymous. Instead of being targeted individually, users are targeted as part of a “cohort” or demographic group.

While it might seem like an improvement on the current model, there is already strong pushback on this from a lot of organizations and people around the world. The main concerns raised include that FLoC would actually give users and regulators less control over data privacy and that it would open the door for discriminatory and predatory advertising. One thing’s for sure – the internet ecosystem needs to evolve to meet our increasing privacy demands, while ensuring the best user experience possible.

It’s an evolution that will certainly spell the end of the current system. And that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. 

Do you need help with web cookies? Contact BuddyCompany today and have a Buddy set up your computer and browser, delete cookies and show you how to manage them.

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