Are Cookies Dangerous?
What are Computer Cookies?
A cookie is a type of computer file. These files are usually embedded in your web browser, and they are put there by websites you have visited in the past. Most cookies only contain a small amount of data and most internet users will have hundreds (if not thousands) of cookies stored on their computer. The first computer cookie was created by Netscape in 1995, and it was name after the fortune cookies that can be found in Chinese restaurants – these also contain information inside.
Why are Cookies Used?
Cookies are used for many different reasons including:
- They are often used so that a website can identify you when you return there.
- A cookie can produce your login details for a website – this makes it bit easier for you to gain quick access to a website.
- It means that websites can know your preferences – for example, you may choose a particular layout that you will experience each time you visit.
- The fact that you will be recognised by the website means that it can direct you straightway to suitable content. For example, Amazon will provide you with book recommendations based on your previous purchases.
- Cookies can be used to track your buying habits online.
- It allows website owners to keep track of the number of people visiting their website.
- It is used by ecommerce websites for keeping track of your shopping cart.
What Can Cookie Files Store?
Cookies can store a limited amount of information such as:
- Your IP address
- Your unique ID – this is how a website will recognise you next time.
- The information you provide on website forms
- The pages you have visited
- Information about the type of web browser you are using
- The OS of your computer
Types of Cookies
The most common types of cookies include:
- Session cookies (aka transient cookies) only stay in your browser for the duration of a session. This means they are deleted as soon as you close the browser.
- Persistent cookies (aka stored cookies) are stored on your computer, and they remain there until you choose to delete them. Some browsers will automatically delete these cookies after a certain time period.
- Third-party cookies are from a website that you haven’t visited, but they are put there by a website you have visited. These might be considered to be the most dangerous cookies if you value your privacy.
- Flash cookies do not reside in your browser. If you have Adobe flash installed on your computer, these cookies will be created to help you get the most from media files using Adobe.
Are Cookies Dangerous?
Cookies are an important element of the whole internet experience. It means that when you go back to a website, you will be treated like a returning friend. In fact, it is hard to imagine how ecommerce websites could function if it weren’t for cookies. If you have provided personal information to a website, by filling in a form, this is likely to be kept in a cookie. The biggest danger with cookies is that the data produced (e.g. your buying habits) may be sold to a third-party. Cookies are only text files, so they are not able to create viruses or make changes to your hard drive.
How to Deal with Cookies
In order to benefit from cookies without it compromising your privacy, it is recommended that you:
- Be careful about any information you provide on website forms.
- It can be a good idea to clear your cookies on a fairly regular basis.
- It is best to avoid accepting any third-party cookies – you should be able to configure your browser to refuse these.
- If you are worried about security on your computer, the best option is to install a quality antivirus software product.