In simple terms,
a cookie is a short string of text that the browser stores when it is received from a specific website which it then will send for each following visit to the same website. This can be used for different things, the most important is implementing login and tracking a user across different visits.
Think of it as a piece of paper that has a text string on it that you are handed when you go through the door of a company that you keep and will show at the door each time you go to the same company.
In this article, I’ll cover:
- What is Website Cookies?
- What should every internet user know about website cookies?
- What are the biggest misconceptions about website cookies?
- How safe are web cookies?
- How do you know when it’s safe to allow cookies on a website?
- Do website cookies help to track consumer behavior?
- What cookies can’t track?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of website cookies?
What is Website Cookies?
Website cookies have been explained beautifully by David J.Malan in CS50. Suppose you go to a club, and when you are about to enter, the bouncer stamps a mark on your hand. Now after a little while, you have to receive an urgent call from your boss, so you go outside the club to talk.
After you finish talking and try to enter the club again, the bouncer first checks your hand. Since your hand is marked, he understands that you have been here before and thus allows you to enter without any problem. In a way, it remembers your previous entry.
Website cookies operate similarly, such that when you visit a new website, you are given a cookie. When you leave and return, that cookie is still there associated with you, and thus as the website remembers your visit, it can serve you better.
Cookies are files created by websites you visit. They are small files of code created by the websites. They help to remember things about your visit to the website. They save information from your session (time spent on a website) to send back to the website and tell it the information when you visit the site again.
The three big things they’re used for are session management, personalization, and tracking.
For example, when you log into MihadAhmed.com, it can remember that you’re logged in. If you delete your cookie history you’ll be logged out of MihadAhmed.com.
What should every internet user know about Website Cookies?
Сookies are small files on your computers that store information.
They are created by a website that you are visiting and allow them to store data regarding your settings and activity on that website. This helps to customize information to fit your needs and perform certain functions.
Cookies can store a wide range of information such as your name, email address, login details, preferred language, and other settings. Cookies by themselves are safe – they can’t access other files on your computer and can store information only with users’ consent. However, based on the data that they are collecting, it is possible to create a detailed profile that tracks the websites you are visiting and your activity.
That information can be sold to other companies and used to show targeted ads. So it would be helpful before accepting cookies on the website to have clear information about the purpose of cookies and the third parties to which user data is transmitted.
Every internet user should know that cookies are not bad or scary things.
What are the biggest Misconceptions about Website Cookies?
The most notable uses of cookies are “keep me logged in” and remembering simple things without forcing you to create an account (ex. your shopping cart). If you block all cookies, you’ll have to log in every time you visit that website, and your settings/preferences won’t be saved. You’ll have to dismiss that pop-up to sign up for their mailing list every time.
Cookies enable richer functionality on websites and actually can improve your privacy. In a world without cookies, every website will require you to create an account and sign in before you can use it because there would be no other way to deliver key features to you. All your data will be stored on their servers. Cookies are stored only on your computer and you can control/delete them.
We shouldn’t be so quick to view cookies as evil. We should be pushing for a web with more transparency and control over cookies, which is what the EU’s GDPR is doing. We should be able to decline tracking cookies but allow a website to remember that we like the dark theme more. If we simply get rid of all cookies, we might end up having less privacy on the web and a more frustrating experience.
How safe are Web Cookies?
I just mentioned some of that GDPR stuff, and yes, the EU Cookie Law means that websites now need to ask your consent before using tracking cookies, but most of them force you to consent by only allowing you to continue past a point unless you agree to have your cookies stored. Clever, huh? Sometimes there’s a default choice to opt-out which means you need
to actively check a box to allow cookies.
Here are the basic pros and cons of cookies in a nutshell:
- You can enjoy a more personalized and tailored browsing experience.
- Websites will remember your name and details if you want to login or fill in a form, making your online experience easier.
- Website owners also benefit from cookies by getting information about their site visitors and personalizing their experiences.
- If a website expects to find a cookie on your computer that has login information, and you’ve already gotten rid of that cookie, you may not be able to log in to the site, and the site’s developer provides no alternate method of logging you in.
- Cookies are linked with specific devices. If a site stores cookies on your laptop, it won’t recognize you when you visit while using your work computer.
- When you let people use your browser account, they can see what kinds of sites you visit by peeking at your browser file — unless you get rid of them!
How do you know when it’s safe to allow Cookies on a Website?
Cookies are usually stored in the user’s computer, somewhere, nevertheless, the coder can define a specific place where to store such data to have it available when needed. So, trying to find where the information resides on your computer can be a difficult task.
Anyway, let’s say you find it. The information stored may be just text chains which mean nothing for humans but mean everything for the page. You can’t anyway define all the times if a place has “secure cookies”. It is supposed they shouldn’t be harmful but they instruct the web browser or the page to behave in a certain way. And some pages won’t allow you to navigate through its information if you don’t accept the cookies.
So we can say accepting cookies is not an option. That’s why some pages don’t show a cancel button. Just an accept button and if you close the notification bar equal to pressing the accept button.
Do Website cookies help to track consumer behavior?
Yes, website cookies can help to track consumer behavior.
Cookies are used for identification. It’s like a consumer shows his ID card each time he serfs the web.
As soon as you recognize the user, you can track almost every move he or she makes while scrolling your webpages (loading pages, playing video, clicking buttons, sending web forms) – depending on your website settings.
Third parties can collect information about the consumer’s behavior across all websites which support third-party cookies.
Cookies help to analyze how the consumer travels through purchasing funnel, how much time does it take to make a purchasing decision, which item does he or she abandon, etc.
What Cookies can’t track?
You can get pretty much information about a consumer’s personality by tracking how he or she uses your website. Nevertheless, if the user didn’t specify personal data (for example, name, age, sex) directly, you can just guess who he or she is.
There’re plenty of tools that help to block cookies and protect internet users from tracking.
Not every user which comes to your website is identifiable by cookies.
What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of website cookies?
Advantages Of Cookies:
- Persistence: one of the most powerful aspects of cookies is their persistence. If a cookie is installed in the client’s browser, it can take days, months, or even years. This makes it easy to save user preferences and visit information and keep this information available each time the user returns to your site. Since cookies are stored on the client’s hard drive, they are always available in case of server failure.
- Transparent: Cookies work transparently without the user knowing that the information needs to be stored.
- Free up memory on the server.
Disadvantages Of Cookies:
- Sometimes, customers disable cookies in their browsers in response to security or privacy concerns that cause problems for web applications that need them. Individual cookies can contain a very limited amount of information (no more than 4KB).
- Cookies are limited to single-string information. You cannot record complex information. Cookies are easily accessible and readable when the user finds them and opens them again.
- Most browsers limit the number of cookies that a single domain can set to a maximum of 20 cookies (except Internet Explorer). If you try to set more than 20 cookies, the oldest cookies will be automatically deleted.
Nowadays, Website cookies are important for a better user experience. There are lots of advantages and disadvantages of allowing website cookies but generally, we should allow website cookies for a better user experience. And in the meantime, we have to know about the advantages and disadvantages of allowing website cookies. And after that, we will know where to allow website cookies and where not to.
About Mihad Ahmed
Mihad Ahmed is a Professional Web Designer & Marketing Specialist. He was the Founder of The Brothers Soft Company. He is recognized as a top 100 Website Specialists under the age of 30 in Asia. He has worked with startups, small businesses, non-profits, and large corporations to provide professional and reliable website design with measurable results.