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Cookies: When They Crumble, Is Your Privacy Safe?

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By: Shimon Brathwaite

November 9, 2021

Cookies have been an integral part of the Internet; you can find them on almost any website that you visit. To be specific, a cookie is a text file containing pieces of data stored on the user’s computer. This data includes things about the user’s activity on a website, which allows the website to remember who you are and what activities and settings you chose for the website. It is important to note that cookies are not a virus or any other type of malware; they do not pose any security risk to your system. Cookies allow websites to remember certain browser activities, such as a user’s shopping cart. It can also recommend shopping items, suggest streaming services, or remember the personalized color themes you chose last time on a website. Cookies add a lot of convenience to the online user experience, hence the reason for their popularity. Today, companies are required to make the user experience as swift and straightforward as possible. However, cookies can also add some privacy concerns. People do not want their online activities monitored. Unfortunately, it is difficult to pinpoint what type of information is saved in the cookie and how it is used. Fortunately, there are a lot of options for blocking cookies. If this is a concern for you, this article will discuss maintaining user privacy by blocking online cookies.

What Are The Different Types of Cookies?

Session Cookies: These are temporary cookies that help websites recognize users and the information they provide the website as they browse. A session cookie only holds this information for as long as the user stays on the website. Once the web browser or application is closed, the cookie is deleted, and that information is lost.

Permanent Cookies: These are persistent cookies, which remain after the web browser is closed. For privacy, permanent cookies can keep your web session information for up to 12 months. Fortunately, the law states that after 12 months, these cookies must be deleted; there is a cap to how much information they can gather and for how long. The cookies contain login information (username and password), so users are not required to re-enter it every time they visit the website.

Third-party cookies: These cookies are installed by third parties to collect information for research and marketing purposes. Typically, they gather information about a user’s behavior or the users themselves, mainly age, sex, and other demographics. The information generated is for business intelligence purposes; it can be used by that particular company or sold to other companies. Companies that do this are called Data Brokers, companies that make money by selling data to other companies.

Flash Cookies: Sometimes called Super Cookies, these cookies are extremely persistent. The reason for its moniker is that they are independent of the web browser and remain on the user’s computer even after all of the cookies have been deleted from your web browser. Since Adobe Flash Player has discontinued supporting Flash Cookies, they are not as big an issue as they once were.

Zombies Cookies: These cookies are a subset of flash cookies; they can be automatically re-created after being deleted. Zombie cookies are used in online games to prevent people from cheating. Still, people can also manipulate this feature to create extremely different cookies for users to remove from their devices.

What Are Your Rights for Cookies?

There are some legal rights afforded to users regarding the use of online cookies by online businesses. You must understand what these are so that you can use them to your advantage.

  • Companies must inform people that cookies are present and what the cookies are being used for.
  • Companies must explain what the cookies are doing and why.
  • Companies must receive the user’s consent to store cookies on their device.

For example, a pop-up dialog box appears when you visit a website, stating that it uses cookies and allows you to read their cookie policy. People often click “accept” and continue to use the website; this is alright if you trust the website or accept the risk. But if you are unfamiliar with a particular site, you may want to read the policy thoroughly.

How To Protect Yourself from Web Cookies?

Do not give consent: If you do not want a website to store a cookie on your computer, the first thing you should do is stop giving consent. Many websites do not make web cookies mandatory; there is no need to consent to the website if you don’t want to.

Change your web browser settings: Most web browsers give you the option of blocking cookies in your browser settings. This way, your browser will automatically stop websites from creating a cookie on your computer without the user needing to do it themselves. You can also see what websites have created cookies on your computer that can be deleted if you would like.

Use a privacy-focused browser: If you are concerned with web browsers that secretly collect your information or session cookies tracking your online activity, you can use a privacy-focused browser such as TOR. These browsers have built-in privacy features that hide your online activity, search history, IP address, and more. Privacy-focused browsers provide users with the maximum amount of protection, and most of them are completely free.

Cookies are used to make the user’s web experience faster, more convenient, and personalized. They have many practical uses, and cookies helped create the modern Internet experience that we all enjoy. However, some people may not be comfortable with the fact that their information is collected, especially by companies that sell it for a profit. To block and remove cookies from their computers, users should not provide their consent, change their browser and browser settings, and delete any cookies that have already been created on their computer.

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