Website cookies, also known as HTTP cookies or tracking cookies, are small data files that web servers save on your device when you visit a web page. The web server sends one or more cookies to the browser, to collect statistics on visitors or customize user experience, among other things. Cookies can identify visitors and save their preferences on the website. The saved data may be related to previous searches, products placed in a shopping cart, and other consumer behavior online.
Websites are nowadays required to ask for user consent when using cookies. This has resulted in, at times intrusive, cookie consent boxes that appear on the screen upon entering a website. These have made people more aware and even suspicious of cookies. But how do cookies actually work and are they always a bad thing?
Cookies are sent between the web server and your browser. Upon entering a website, your browser sends a cookie saved on your device to a web server. The server reads the cookie’s ID and is able to customize the page based on the cookie. This way a website is able to remember, for example, your language, currency and login details.
Without the customization of cookies, you would have to log in to a web page each time you close and reopen a page. You may also have noticed that some pages save your products in the shopping cart even if you leave the page. This function is also made possible by cookies.
Your browser stores cookies in a special file on your device. The cookies are stored for a predetermined period of time that varies depending on the supplier, type of cookies, and the cookie’s purpose. The three main purposes of cookies are:
Although cookies can be difficult to avoid, they are, in most cases, an optional part of the online user experience. And although people are often suspicious of them, cookies are not always a bad thing. In fact, they are often necessary for websites to work as we want them to. Still, you can, and in some cases should, limit which cookies are used both on your computer and on your mobile devices.
Allowing cookies can make using the internet more convenient for example with saved login credentials and user preferences. You can usually change how cookies are used in the privacy settings of the website, browser or your device. By ticking boxes like
Allow cookies or
You can reduce the risk of identity theft and tracking, among other things, by rejecting or deleting cookies. However, websites can become more difficult to use because you have to enter data every time you enter the site, instead of the website remembering your preferences and information. Preventing cookies is usually done in your browser’s settings under tools, internet options or advanced settings. You can also customize which cookies are allowed or give permission to only necessary cookies. Deleting cookies will not protect you from all of today’s online threats, but it is a good start to take ownership of your data.
Cookies themselves are not dangerous and do not infect your device with viruses or malware. However, cookies may pose a risk to your privacy if online criminals can access your private browsing history. The information can be used for spying, unwanted advertising, harassment, and identity theft.
In addition, there is some malware that is capable of disguising itself as a cookie. These so-called supercookies are hard to delete and can collect all sorts of information about users and their behavior online.
The problem with cookies also lies in the fact that you cannot always control how data about you is collected or who gets access to it. Many users do not want their behavior or preferences to be tracked online.
We can divide website cookies into two categories based on where they are created.
In recent years, many users have noticed the sometimes intrusive boxes that appear on websites upon entering. Most often users disregard them and just click
ePrivacy Directive (ePR)
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
The biggest problem with cookies is their impact on users’ privacy. The increase in online tracking may pose a risk to consumers' private information. A VPN that encrypts your data and makes browsing private can help to strengthen your online protection. Although a VPN cannot prevent websites from using cookies if you allow them, it is a great way to prevent tracking and protect your online privacy.
Online tracking is a great concern for many, and for a good reason. That is why a reliable VPN is a necessary tool in everyone’s cyber security arsenal. Get a world-class VPN and more with F‑Secure Total for full online protection. The advanced antivirus protects your devices from hackers and malware. The versatile tools for managing passwords and protecting your identity make staying safe online easy. Try F‑Secure Total for free today.