What Are Cookies And Why Do Websites Want You To Accept Them

We are living in a world where you can’t navigate between two webpages without being asked to accept cookies. Out of the 100 people we interviewed, 90 said they accept cookies though they don’t know what cookies are.

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What are cookies?

Cookies are text files with small pieces of data that can be used to identify your computer as you use a computer network.

In its most basic form, a cookie is a simple text file that is saved to your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet when you accept cookies on a website. The file stores the website’s name, and also a unique ID that identifies your computer. This allows the website to identify you if you go back to that website again.

What information can cookies hold?

Every cookie holds at least a website’s name, and an ID for you and your computer. However, the amount of information a cookie holds can differ from website to website. For example, for some websites, a cookie might contain any of the following:

  • The amount of time you spend on the website
  • The links you click while using the website
  • The options, preferences or settings you choose
  • Accounts you log into
  • A record of which pages you’ve visited in the past
  • Items in a shopping basket.

E-commerce websites generally use cookies to remember the items you’re storing in a virtual basket before checkout. This is done so that if you inadvertently abandon your virtual basket, for example due to a network outage, the website can remember you and remind you of your basket on your next visit. However, the website doesn’t technically remember you. It remembers your computer, which means if someone else visits the website next using your computer, they will be shown your abandoned cart.

Social media networks, like Facebook, might use cookies to track the links you click and the Facebook pages you visit. This information is then used to show you more relevant or interesting links in the future, such as interest based page suggestions on Facebook. This is part of what is known as the Internet of Behaviour (IoB).

What Are Cookies Used For?

Websites generally use cookies to give you a tailored made and smooth web experience. For example, without cookies you would have to login again everytime you revisit a website or have to rebuild your shopping cart if you accidentally close the page. Lucky enough, cookies store enough information about you to remember what you were doing before you left.

Here’s how websites use cookies:

  • Session management. Cookies let websites recognise users and their individual login information which means when you return to a site you will be automatically logged in if you were logged in.
  • Personalisation of service. Some websites use cookies to personalise your web sessions so as to provide you targeted ads that you might find interesting.
  • Activity Tracking. E-commerce sites use cookies to track items you previously viewed, so that they can suggest other goods you might like. They also keep your shopping cart items in cookies just in case you accidentally leave the page.

Cookie notice

The truth is that the majority of the internet users would never know that websites store cookies on their machines if the websites didn’t notify them. Thankfully, there are regulations that force websites to declare cookies. One such regulation is EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which forces companies to request your explicit consent to collect your data.

That’s why these days you see lots of websites asking for your permission before dumping a cookie on your computer. A websites that stores cookies on your device has to get your permission or risk a huge fine under various laws.

If you don’t want a website to store a cookie holding information about you, just can just click "I do no accept" when the cookies notice pops up.

The downside of not accepting cookies is that some companies won’t let you use the services on their website if you don’t accept a cookie. The general reason being that some websites simply won’t work as intended without cookies. However, the fact that a website doesn’t declare a cookie policy doesn’t mean they do not collect cookies. Some rogue websites might even continue storing cookies on your device even after you click "do not accept". They know you won’t notice.

The biggest upside of accepting cookies is that you’ll get a more tailored experience with more relevant content. For example, a video streaming website might use cookies to identify the type of videos you like based on your previous views and then show you tailored suggested videos.

Can I clear my cookies?

Of course, cookies are stored on your computer which means you can delete them. The process of clearing cookies is simple, you open your internet browser settings and navigate to the history section or privacy section, depending on your browser. There, you will find an option to delete cookies.

However, the downside is that clearing cookies will log you out of most websites.

For Chrome browser on Android you will find the option on the settings screen under the privacy tab.

Clearing cookies

Sydney Chako

Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics teacher at Sytech Learning Academy. From Junior Secondary School to Tertiary Level Engineering Mathematics and Engineering Science.


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