What are Website Cookies?

And are they bad for you?

Website Cookies are like magic little trackers which websites leave on your computer.

One of the key devices used for managing visitors to a website are “Cookies”, maybe you are familiar with them to some degree. We’re going to address this at a typical user level so that many people can get a better understanding of what they are and how they work.

A General description

The General Purpose of Cookies: In the greatest sense a cookie Identifies a visitor to your site. It does this in the manner where the visit to the website prompts the website to determine if there is a related cookie stored in the browser of the person visiting the website. To understand this it’s ciritcal to understand that the cookie is stored on YOUR computer. So when you visit a website, the websites server and back end code may first prompt to determine if you already have a cookie from this website and if not, it will place one on your computer. Here! Have a Cookie! If you already visited that website you will likely already have a cookie from the website and that cookie contains an ID code which it can use to say “Hey, It’s Chris Dundee visiting again” now that it knows who is visiting it can look into it’s other data and learn more about you.

So how are they useful?

Generally they are used for various marketing or login details. For example if Chris had purchased before it can make that connection. Chris bought a Yard trimmer, 8 months ago, maybe they need more trimmer line, let’s pack up an offer for! Another possibility is that it can use the cookie to know that Chris, using this same browser, on this computer logged into our website 8 hours agao and has set up their account to remain logged in for 24 hours folling an inactive period.

Cookied can be used creatively for a variety of actions. If you’ve ever been to a website and looked at yard trimmers and then 2 days later an email from that website (or another one) advertising that same (or another) yard trimmer, that was a cookie that informed the website that you were there and looked at Yard trimmers.

Are they “Dangerous”?

While cookies (the real kind with nuts and chips in them) may not be the best food for your diet, cookies in web browsers are generally inert but can be used for mischief indirectly. They are inert because a cookie is well defined as a tiny little piece of code carring nothing more than an identifier and a few key pieces of data. Not large enough for carrying a virus or other malware. They can, however be used to identify you and track you from one site to another.

Google Analytics and many other websites use cookies that can track you from one site to another and how Google uses that data is often subject to concern. Similar example, Google can use a cookie combined with your gmail account to really know a lot about you. They can track your visits to 3 different websites wehere you shopped for “Yard Trimmers” and know all 5 versions you looked at. Googles cookie can also see what other sites you’re visiting to create a robust profile of your overall internet (web) activity. If not most, very many of the websites most visited sites use analytics to some degree to know who is visiting and what they’re doing.

There are ways to limit the use of cookies on your web browser but limiting the use of cookies can often make websites you want to use, no longer work correctly. Once again a tradoff of convenience vs. privacy. What’s more valuable is subject to a lot of specifics (which convenience vs. privacy about what?). Meanwhile, they are like virus and bacteria where many of them are essential to the web working as it must for us but used the wrong way can cause bad outcomes.

In summary a cooke is a small piece of code that a web browser can use to identify and then gather data on visitors. Cookies are stored on your local computer within each web browser. They are used also to maintain logins and better understand and serve visitors to website. They don’t comtain malware and are relatively inert but have the capacity to channel a lot of identifying data to web servers. If you have questions about cookies or other website technology please visit our contact form to let us know.


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