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    Cookies Definition

    Web cookies are small pieces of data given to a browser by a web server. The browser stores the data in a text file and sends it back to the server whenever you revisit that same website.

    What do cookies do?

    Their main objective is to help a website remember information about your visit. This means the site can provide a more customized experience: it might suggest specific content, or store login details to simplify your next visit.

    How do cookies work?

    When you enter a website, you may be asked to provide personal information like your age, email address or interests.

    This information is packaged into a “cookie” and sent to your Web browser. It will store the information until the next time you go to the same Web site. The  information will then be sent back to that Web server each time you revisit the site, reminding it of your preferences.

    Web servers have no memory; this is why the hosted website you are visiting transfers snippets of data to your computer’s hard disk to be referred to later. *

    What information does a cookie collect?

    For the most part a cookie will contain information about your browser. Some web sites do use cookies to store more personal information, but this will only happen where you provided those details yourself.

    Legitimate web sites will also encrypt personal information stored in the cookie to prevent unauthorized usage by another party.

    Types of cookies

    Session cookie

    Also called a transient cookie, a cookie that is erased when you close the Web browser. The session cookie is stored in temporary memory and is not retained after the browser is closed. Session cookies do not collect information from your computer. They typically will store information in the form of a session identification that does not personally identify the user.

    Persistent cookie

    A persistent cookie is stored on your hard drive until it expires, or until you delete it. Persistent cookies are used to collect identifying information about your browsing habits and site preferences.

    What are first and third-party cookies?

    When choosing a privacy setting in your browser, you will encounter these two terms regularly, so let’s unpack both.

    First party cookies

    First party cookies originate from the web site you’re currently viewing.

    They generally contain information about your preferences for that particular website. These are usually designed to make your user experience on that site better.

    Third party cookies

    These originate from a website other than the one you are visiting. For example, if the Web site you are on is advertising other products, those third-party advertisers may use cookies to track your browsing habits for marketing purposes.

    Should you disable cookies?

    You may simply choose to block all cookies, but it can make web surfing more difficult.

    For example if you shop online, many e-commerce shopping carts would not work. Sites you frequently visit which enable you to personalize content also will stop showing your preferences.

    The best solution is to get in the habit of reviewing and managing the cookies associated with your browser. This means you can still keep the benefits, while disablinng anything you find invasive.

    What are malicious cookies?

    Tracking cookies watch your online activity, and are sometimes called malicious because they track your surfing habits over time. They build a profile of your interests, which can be sold to an advertising company. The company then uses this profile information to target you with interest specific adverts.

    Many antivirus programs today will flag suspicious spyware or adware cookies when scanning your system for viruses.

    How to manage cookies

    Cookies are stored by the Web browser on your system’s hard drive, and you can view them to see which Web sites that you visit are associated with your cookie files.

    Viewing a page's cookies in Windows.

    If using Internet Explorer, for example you select Tools then choose Internet Options. On the general tab you will see a section titled Browser History. Click Settings then choose View Files.

    This will open up a Windows Explorer window that lists all your temporary Internet files, including your cookies. Each one will be identified by a site URL making it easy to determine which one you trust and want to keep .

    To change your settings, simply to go back into Tools then choose Internet Options. On the Privacy tab you will see a slider bar which you can move to adjust the level at which your browser accepts cookies.

    If you’re using a browser other than Internet Explorer, you can visit the following cookie pages on each browser website to find out how to manage your settings when using Firefox, Microsoft Edge or Safari.

    Are cookies good or bad?

    It depends on what information they collect, and how it’s used.

    Advantages of cookies

    The benefit of accepting is improved user experience. Not only do they help web pages load more quickly, they can also tailor advertisements, create an effortless authentication process, and maintain site preferences for repeated visits.

    Cookies are often unsung heroes of web browsing efficiency and personalization.

    Disadvantages of cookies

    A major downside is the vulnerability for your data to be tracked and used for malicious intentions. When the connection between a browser and server is targeted by an attacker, your stored information can be sold to third parties or “hijacked” and used to impersonate you in other places.

    Cookies and GDPR

    In addition to the security risks mentioned above, cookie use presents a number of concerns for internet privacy a somewhat related issue that was put under the spotlight in 2016 when the European Union (EU) passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

    This legislation addresses the policies and practices of data controllers and mandates that an individual’s data may only be collected under six circumstances: unambiguous consent from the individual, vital interest of the individual, legitimate interest of the controller, contractual necessity, public interest, or legal requirement. To that end, the GDPR also stipulates how much data can be collected, how the collected data can be stored, and how an individual can go about having their data erased.

    GDPR compliance has major implications for a website’s cookie processing. The enforcement of GDPR standards has led most websites regardless of where their servers are based to institute overt, explicit cookie opt-in/opt-out practices as well as options for individuals to revoke cookie consent at any point. This means visitors to a website can dictate whether their data is collected before they engage with a site’s content and have greater control over their data privacy.