What are web cookies?
They are simple ’text files’ which you can open and read using the text editor (Notepad on PC or TextEdit on Mac). Cookies are NOT programs. They don’t do anything at all. Typically, they contain two pieces of information: a site name and unique user ID. They are also known as HTTP Cookie, Internet cookie, or browser cookie.
How do they work?
The site then ’knows’ that you have been there before, and in some cases, tailors what pops up on screen to take account of that fact. It can be helpful to vary content according to whether this is your first ever visit to a site – or your 71st.
The good thing about cookies…
Some cookies are more sophisticated. They might record your preferences for page layouts (don’t show me sport related news). They can also be used to store data on what is in your ‘shopping cart’, adding items as you click.
The possibilities are endless, and generally the role of cookies is beneficial, making your interaction with frequently-visited sites smoother – for no extra effort on your part. Without cookies, online shopping would be much harder.
…and the bad
So why the paranoia? The answer probably depends on how you feel about organisations – business and government – storing information about visitors. Unless you have login details (your name or email address and the password) the cookie would not help the website to identify you personally – you will be just a visitor with ID. There is nothing especially secret or exceptional about the information gathered by web cookies, but you may just dislike the idea of your name being added to marketing lists, or your information being used to target you for special offers. That is your right.
When cookies first started to appear, there was controversy. Some companies, without warning were gathering information about you, which could then be used to build a picture of your browsing habits for the re-marketing purpose.
Web cookies and the law
Sites will continue to use web cookies and the information they store in order to make your online browsing an easier, more enjoyable experience. Cookies are nothing to be scared of, even if the new prompts seeking your consent might seem a little off-putting for the cautious internet user.
In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will be closely monitoring sites to make sure that they comply with this new legislation, so there will be no avoiding the regulations. Websites have had over a year to make the changes to their code, so there should be no excuses!
You can of course still change how web cookies are stored on your machine by clicking on the ‘Tools’ menu in your internet browser.