What Are Internet Cookies and What Are They Used For?
January 3, 2022
The Internet is dominated by cookies, files that are useful for navigation and the Web Economy. Knowing about them is a good way to surf the Internet with awareness and protect your privacy.
What are Cookies?
In recent years, thanks in part to the attention brought by the new European data protection and privacy regulations (GDPR), you can read the term “cookies” on practically every website. But what exactly are they?
Cookies are very small packets of data sent from the server of a website to your browser. They are stored on your device for a short or long term and are programmed to record certain information about you, depending on their purpose.
These microscopic files are essential for the proper functioning of the Internet browser and the various websites. They can be used for many things: for example, they make it easy to authenticate yourself; they can store data useful for navigation, such as preferences on the graphic or linguistic appearance of the site; they can track the user’s navigation for statistical or advertising purposes; or they can store the contents of an e-commerce shopping cart.
Types of cookies
There is a wide range of cookies, each with a specific use for you and the website you are visiting. It is very useful to know the types of cookies that exist so that you can make an informed choice about which ones to accept and which ones to reject.
Depending on their purpose, we have different categories of cookies:
- Technical cookies – allow the website to function properly and enable user-friendly navigation.Example: a cookie that keeps the session active and therefore allows the user to log in;
- Analytical cookies – provide the website operator with statistical data and metrics.Example: total number of visitors, time slot of visits, most visited pages, most searched keywords, device from which you connect, etc;
- Profiling cookies – are used to catalogue and profile the individual user browsing the website. The profile created subsequently has different purposes such as commercial (targeted advertising) or behavioural studies;
- Third-party cookies – these include all cookies that allow a third party to access information and reconstruct the user’s activities on the Internet.Example: Google can understand which websites we view and what we search for on the internet, thanks to this type of cookie it can offer targeted advertising or appropriate video suggestions on Youtube;
- Evercookie, zombie cookies and super cookies – these are not actually cookies, according to the definition, but they look very similar. They are processes that can self-replicate even when they are deleted, they can also copy themselves to other folders on the computer.Examples: Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight use these cookies to display multimedia content on the Internet;
In the field of Privacy, the EU and other legislators have increasingly focused on third-party cookies as they are the ones that can potentially affect the privacy of the user surfing the Internet. Some quite strict limitations and regulations – where they are stored, by whom or how they are collected – have been imposed on the processing of personal data in order to protect Internet users.
What it means to accept Cookies
When you access any website, the first time you visit it, a banner appears with different options to choose from for the type of cookies you want to receive or reject.
Generally speaking, cookies are not dangerous, as their functionality is limited and well confined to the Internet browser you are using, and they are not comparable to malicious programs such as malware or viruses. Accepting them, therefore, does not involve much risk, but you should be aware of what you are doing and what you really need.
How to manage your cookies
Depending on your needs, you can control cookies either while browsing or afterwards.
- When visiting a new site, manually select cookies – if you want to stop receiving advertisements that do not interest you and limit the data you share with sites, this is the best prevention. Even if it slows down your navigation, you have the possibility and the right to accept only those cookies that are strictly necessary for proper navigation.Modern antivirus software also offers the possibility of blocking unwanted cookies or deleting them afterwards, all automatically.
- Disable third-party cookies – from your browser settings, go to the Privacy section and find the entry to disable third-party cookies. This will prevent services such as Google or Facebook from tracking your activity on other sites, however, it may prevent you from taking advantage of certain browsing conveniences and features.
- Incognito browsing – this mode of browsing, which you can find in your browser menu, transmits fewer data to websites and likewise blocks certain types of cookies (especially tracking and profiling cookies) by default.
- Delete cookies – Whichever browser you use, you can delete the cookies stored on your computer. Simply go to your browser’s settings, go to the Privacy section and find the item that allows you to delete your history and also all the cookies that have been collected. This very simple step not only deletes cookies, but also frees up some space on your computer as the cache is also deleted.Mind you, this means that the next time you access your online profiles, you will need to remember your credentials and password.
Cookies and privacy: keeping up to date
In an increasingly data-centric world, we need to give due weight and importance to the data we leave on the web as we go about our daily activities.
Privacy is an increasingly important issue for both governments and companies, so several changes and innovations await us. One of these is Google’s announcement in early 2021 that it intends to eliminate the collection of third-party cookies by 2023.