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What are Cookies?

04 Dec
2018

Internet cookies are small text files (255 characters or less) that are placed on your web browser or computer by web servers.

A cookie is created when you first visit a site that wants to store information. This text file usually includes a name, an expiration date, a coded number, and the domain name of the visited site.

When you return to a site, the cookie tells the site that a computer with code XYZ has returned and reminds it of your activities and preferences on your previous visits.

These details can include pages visited at the site, what you did when you were on the site, how many times you visited the site, language preferences, the IP address of your device, and your login information.

The information collected from cookies enables websites to offer convenient logins and authentication, personalized experience for you through preference setting and language setting, enhanced online shopping experience, ad management, and more. So in and of themselves, cookies are not bad things.

Cookies, for example, do not store any of your personal information such as your email address or phone number. However, because they allow third-party sites to track you across the web, there can be a downside to cookies , particularly if you are concerned about what some refer to as “targeted advertising” and others as “online spying” or “invasion of privacy.”

Cookies are not seen as a direct threat to privacy or security – but they raise a host of indirect issues. Generally speaking, cookies do not contain private data (except for credit card numbers and IP addresses at times) and cannot be used to transmit malware or virus. That’s the good news. The bad news concerning privacy is on the practice of cookie profiling.

Cookie profiling is the use of multiple tracking cookies to track your overall activities online over a period of time and then to compile these data to create a profile of you. The data may include your browsing activities, your demographic data, and some other statistical information. Advertisers obtain the cookies from different sources, usually from popular websites with high traffic volume.

This may not seem like a big deal to some, but it is a big concern for those who take their privacy seriously.

By doing cookie profiling, advertisers can target ads that are more relevant to your interests and buying preferences. Some people may not mind this, while others equate this to “cyber-stalking.”

One of the largest ad servers is Google’s AdSense/Adwords network, which places ads on millions of web pages. Based on a device’s past browsing history and ad clicking history, Google is able to serve ads that closely match the device or individual user’s preferred types of internet content. For example, a car enthusiast might be sent automobile related advertisements, even if he/she is at a site unrelated to the auto sector.

How to manage cookies

Cookies generally do not cause any harm if the sites you visit are trusted and legitimate. Make sure to read their online privacy policies if you are not sure.

If you’re still concerned with what information is collected about you and how your information is shared by the cookies, you have several options when it comes to cookie management.

At the basic level, most browsers let you delete either individual cookies or to remove all of them. You can also choose to set up your browser so it only accepts first-party cookies, which will make it easier to log in to the sites you regularly visit, but will not leave you open to third-party advertising tracking cookies. For instructions on disabling cookies, visit www.usa.gov/optout_instructions.shtml.

 

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Paola Hernandez
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